The residual refrain: Day 1

Barnawatha – Warby-Ovens National Park: Lugging water

Saturday March 18, 2017, 46 miles (74 km) – Total so far: 46 miles (74 km)

I think this may be the most unprepared I’ve ever been for a tour. Things have been so crazy wrapping things up at work and figuring out a million things you have to figure out when life-changing events come knocking. My mind has been elsewhere.

I’ve spent some time route planning and acquiring some maps, but the level of research put into this tour is pretty scant. Luckily, I’ve done overnight and three-day rides on many weekends over the past 18 months, so my gear is pretty much already sorted and hanging around on the spare bedroom floor. I just need to add a second set of clothing, a couple warmie items, water purification tabs, and my collapsible bucket. Everything else is pretty standard.

I do have a few errands to run in town before I can leave today, however. This means I have Nigel drop me off in Barnawatha around noon, instead of riding out the door from home. I’m not missing any new roads – just repeats of busy, unpleasant ones, so it’s not a big deal.

Nigel unloads my gear. Normally, when he drops me off, we just dump bike, panniers and front wheel on the side of the road, he gives me a quick kiss and is then gone. But, for whatever reason today, he hangs around until I’ve got the bike loaded. Then his hug is long and tight. He always fears for my safety on the road, but this tour’s route has him more nervous than most. There would be irony in losing my life to road trauma on this trip – since road trauma robbed me of MY Nigel many years ago. Luckily, my life is not usually ironic.

And then we’re rolling down the road on the old Hume Highway toward Chiltern. The sun says it is mid-autumn. The temperature (high of 32C today) says it is still summer. March these days is what February used to be. April is the new March. And so we go… hot but under a sun whose angle says it should just be warm.

Old Hume Highway heading out of Barnawatha to Chiltern. The freeway from Melbourne to Sydney is not far off to the left. Southeast Oz has so many tree-lined roads that look a whole lot like this.

I’ve ridden this route down to Wangaratta many times. It is not all that exciting and it parallels the freeway much of the way. But the roads are quiet since everyone is over on the freeway. There is time to just pedal, cruise and think, “good god the bike feels heavy today!”

I stop in Wangaratta for a snack, a bit of a rest in the shade and to fill all of my water bottles. I’ll be camping on top of the Warby Range tonight, so it will be a dry camp. I’m carrying 4 empty one-litre bottles, plus two litres in my Camelbak. The bike REALLY feels heavy when that all goes on. But the new triple crankset has some super-easy gears, so there’s no trouble toting all that aqua up the hills to come.

I head out of town through all the new housing estates. I cannot believe that people want to buy these places. They are ugly and on such tiny blocks. I’d rather buy something older, fix it up and still have a quarter acre block. How can people live on top of each other like this? That’s for city folk – not country towns! Soap box now removed.

The new housing estates are pretty disgusting. Tiny lots, houses with no eaves (this one at least has a bit of a gutter overhang), driveways too short to park more than one car, no setbacks from property lines so that you can jump from one house to another, windows and doors that will date quickly and be hard to replace… and if you are lucky, like this one, you get a streetlight at the end of the driveway so that you can not directly reverse out of your driveway. Ugh… this is the Australian dream?

There aren’t many cars out on the road to the Warbys. It’s late afternoon on a hot Saturday. Everyone is already where they need to be, or they’ve already gone home, I guess. The scrubby vegetation and rocky outcrops of the range get bigger as we ride closer. There are no foothills or wavy bits of crumpled earth to ride over. The earth just tilts ever so gently until you are right into the bottom of the range.

Up we go. The road curves around and then up. There are many lifestyle properties out here that eventually give way to the dry, scrubby trees. We are climbing the range with all that water. I’ve been here six or seven times, so nothing is a surprise. This is the first time in this part of the park on the bike though.

Heading up to Ryans Lookout in the Warby Ovens National Park on the Wangandary Road.

As I get further into the climb and the somewhat steep undulations on top, it hits me that I am out for a couple weeks on the bike, not just overnight. Woo-hoo! It is one of those times in life where it is all so huge and incongruous that you feel like you are watching it happen to someone else. I think the psychologists call it disassociation or something – and it’s a coping mechanism. But it’s still weird – as if you could reach out and touch yourself while you watch yourself going through the motions.

Yesterday was my last day at work. That was hard. I liked my job and the people I worked with, mostly. It wasn’t a stressful job. I had good work-life balance. I was valued and appreciated. I had a perfect boss. I could have stayed there for quite some time. But it’s done. And here I am. On the bike. Pedalling up a hill on an autumn day. The future is so uncertain, the only thing that is certain is that I like to ride my bike. And I’ll do that wherever I end up. Soooo strange.

So that is what I think about as I cruise through the thin, dappled shade of these short and scrubby trees. We turn off on Ridge Road and head up on good, smooth gravel. There’s been a lot of fire through this range, and it seems everything is in some stage of regrowth. Some areas are open and grassy, some have shrubby regrowth. Some trees are blackened, some have streaks of grey returning through the char. Our hope is to get most of this ride finished in the next two weeks before the farmers and government get underway with all their planned burning. Autumn is a smoky time in southeast Oz!

Ridge Road in Warby Ovens National Park.

The sticky flies are all but gone. The march flies have taken over. They are fewer in number, but they BITE. Large welts that are intensely itchy for days. I stamp my feet to keep them off my legs as I set up the tent a little ways down an MVO track. I’m happy to have all that water to rehydrate and have a bit of a rinsing splash. It’s been a hot and sweaty ride.

Grass trees – lots of them in this park.

I relax. Aaaah. I lie flat out on my sleeping pad. I haven’t relaxed in weeks. I can feel everything just loosen and release – including my mind. We are riding for the next couple weeks and that is all that matters. Aaaaahhhhhh. The sound of the kookaburras cackling away as the sun sets makes me sad; the sight of the stars as the cover of night carries away the light makes me sad, too. There is just way too much to say goodbye to, and it just doesn’t seem real just yet. I’m just out here on my bike, camped in some random spot, like so many weekends of the past. This is what I know and love… it will carry me through.

Random campsite #1 – just off the Pandarang Track. Hot and dry… still feels like summer.

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