Plan B – April Ride 3 – The tour that wasn’t

22-24 April

Total Kilometres: 136 kms (85 miles)

Total Kilometres 2018: 1876 kms (1166 miles)

Most bike tours, from weekend jaunts to months-long routes, are a joy to plan and anticipate. I’ve never felt trepidation or fear before a tour, even on my first ‘big’ tour in 2010. I’ve always just been so excited to go and spend time on the bike, time in my tent and time out on some sort of an adventure.

But this tour is different. Normally, I would be doing my week-long autumn ride sometime in March. I would plan out something super-ambitious and wonder if I’d be able to pull it off. Riding and touring has always been about pushing my limits and redefining what the bike and myself are capable of.

Originally, I wanted to do a big ride out of Benambra through high plateaus and Snowy River country. The ride would have been mostly on forest roads and tracks. But as January and February wore on and it was a struggle to just ride 20kms on flat ground, I knew that dream was over.

So I looked at the map and found another blank spot of unridden roads – the Strathbogies. I’d ridden down there over Anzac Day weekend in 2016 and had a great time.  So I plotted routes and figured out a week in April that I could take off from work.  It would be a little late in the season and could be rainy, but it was really the only option.

As March came and my fatigue levels had not significantly improved, I replotted the routes again. There was too much climbing and the days too long for my ‘energy envelope’. The Mt Granya ride and the three-day ride at Easter showed that I needed yet again to reduce my route and its difficulty.

It was depressing to try to figure out a route that included days of only 30-50 kilometres that was close enough to a train line that I could abort the whole thing if the ‘veil of ugh’ became too much to bear. This illness sucks beyond all belief – it has robbed me of my identity and how my life is defined. But I’m determined to retain something of my life as a cyclist… even if it means I can only ride 35 kilometres in a day with a load. And so… here we go… on an abbreviated route that is far from what I’d hoped to do for an autumn 2018 tour.

Day 1 – Riff-raff in Ruffy 

Nigel drops me off in Seymour on our way back from a great time celebrating his 50th birthday and attending the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He unloads my bike and gear while I fill my Camelbak and use the toilet. I don’t know where the next one will be, so I take advantage of the opportunity.

Nigel gives me a long hug before he goes. I don’t see him very often these days, so he has previously only seen glimpses of my all-consuming exhaustion. But he got a good look over the past 24 hours and is concerned. He didn’t realise how much joint and muscle pain I feel all the time and how little energy I have at my disposal. He says, “Be careful. Text me every night. And if you need me to come get you, just ring me. I’ll come get you after work. You’re too sick to be doing this, so call me if it gets too much.” He holds me by the shoulders and looks me straight in the eye. I reassure him that I’m only a day away from the train line at any time, so I will abort if I have to.

And then he heads off and I pack up the bike. I’m taking two litres of water in the Camelbak and two litres in the panniers. I have no idea where I will next be able to fill water. Creeks are barely running at this time of year and I would be very hesitant to treat water from them anyway, since the route is almost all through agricultural land.

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Seymour is close to a large army base. This helicopter is part of a veteran’s walk that runs down the street and has plaques, tanks, etc.

The sun angle is low but it is still very warm today -28C. Summer will just not quit this year. I weave my way through the back streets of Seymour to get out of town. The homes are all old, small cottages in various states of disrepair. I’ve always been told Seymour is a bit of a rough town (rough for small town Oz – it’s all relative of course), and this area of town certainly indicates there is a fair chunk of people without a whole lot of income or hope.

However, as we proceed past an industrial area and into the outskirts of town – we find the money. There are plenty of expensive homes on lifestyle lots on the edge of town. As we get further out, the blocks become bigger, the gates become fancier and the owners have money to spare to irrigate grass and actually have a lawn. Further out, we find the horse people and their immaculate dressage rings and nicely-fenced paddocks. The money increases with each kilometer. All along this display of wealth, we are riding one of those tree-lined roads that define Southeast Oz.

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One of those gorgeous tree-lined roads. Highlands Road. This illness makes me feel all worn out. It matches the fabric of my crew!

The road heads gently up. There is a bit of traffic, but mostly going the other way, including a motorcycle group strung out over several kilometres. Eventually the rich prick blocks give way to more traditional farms, just as the road narrows and the speed limit increases. Off to our right are the flat floodplains of the Goulburn River tributaries. Large, isolated gum trees stand in grazing paddocks mostly free from weeds. Off to our left, the land undulates as it rises to the base of the Strathbogies in the distance. It is all pleasant and pastoral.

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Paddocks on undulating land that leads into the plateau over there. Highlands Road 6 kms out of Seymour.

I am forcing myself to ride slow and gentle. We are on a continuous, gentle climb, but I remind myself to let the bike do the work. I spin and maintain speeds that I should not have to do until I’m 75-years-old. But slow we go.

We eventually find the Hughes Creek turn-off. This is a major stream flowing across the plateau and then dropping to the floodplain through a series of gorges. We’ll follow the creek up stream and up onto the plateau. We’ll go from two hundred-and-something metres to 560 metres over 45 kilometres today. (Unfortunately for my muscles, a lot of the elevation gain comes in short, steep hills).

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Start of Hughes Creek Road. Landcare projects were big in the 1990s, but government focus has turned far away from environmental needs at the moment.

We immediately dive down through trees into the folds of the hills. We pick up a narrow drainage and weave along with this until we reach Hughes Creek. We are deep in the landscape here. There are roadcuts on one side as the creek presses against the edges of rounded knolls. The creek flows just below the road to the left. It is very scenic, and I’m very glad I’ve come this way. The road is pretty corrugated in spots, and sandy in others, but it is worth it to follow the creek in its plunge through the tightly bunched hills.

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About to drop down into the creek.
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Oh, this is good stuff. Little creek leading into Hughes Creek is just to our left.
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Creek on left, road cut on right. This is a great route.

I stop to read an interpretive board about how they are working to improve habitat for the endangered Macquarie Perch. Apparently, poor land practices and floods in 1916 and 1974 produced a ‘sand slug’ in the creek. All of the eroded sand made the stream flow wide and shallow – the fish need deep pools interspersed with shallower sections. Improved land practices have resulted in reduced erosion. Combined with rehabilitation work to deepen the stream and return logs and other places of habitat, they are slowly expanding the range of the fish from only a couple reaches of the creek to several. Interestingly, there is currently a whole lot of sand in the creek in the several places I go down to have a look. There was a record rainfall event here in January (the event was a real fizzer where I lived) and substantial flooding – so I wonder how the creek looked before that.

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Hughes Creek.

We wind along through the gorge and then pop back out into the sun and climb away from the creek over long-brown paddocks. The road condition improves. Long ridges are visible in each direction. The Strathbogies are two high plateaus left over from volcanic activity in the Devonian. The southern plateau is a large igneous batholith. The creeks here have found cracks in the granite and eroded valleys over millions of years. The cracks tend to form in parallel and perpendicular lines – hence, many of the ridges run parallel to one another as well.

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We’ve popped back out of the creek gorge. It runs up against the hills over there. Road surface improves.
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Up on the paddocks away from the creek. we are heading in a long u-shape here and will turn back northwest along the base of that hill.

We finally roll down to cross the creek. Through this section, the creek is running right on large, granite slabs in a quick dash downhill. I contemplate giving Verne and Kermit a float in the one little spot where there is a wedge of public access. However, I don’t know how long it will take to get to Ruffy – our intended stopping point – and I’m not feeling overly great, so we just have a quick break and push on. A car pulled up just as we were pulling away, so we would have had to have shared the spot anyway.

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Beautiful – the creek is running right on top of slabs of granite down there.
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Creek running over granite – I deny the guys a float here.

We climb back up onto the slopes high above the creek and round up a mob of sheep. We climb higher and higher still. My body does not like this. I was tired before we started riding today. It was a big week at work, and then last night we schlepped it all over the Melbourne CBD until late, going to various comedy gigs. So the further we go today, the worse my legs hurt and the more the veil of ugh descends. I’m trying to take it easy, but the heat and the climbing and the energy required is more than what I’ve got.

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See the road curving up and away up ahead. We’re way up above the creek through here.
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The hillside there is just a slab of granite.
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Rounding up some sheep on the way.
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Think how beautiful this would be in spring when everything was green.

Still, this is incredibly scenic and I’m enjoying the views, the clear skies and the knowledge that I could still be bedridden and not out here at all. I get up to Tarcombe – not a village, just a locality with its name taken from a property. I’m really done about here – just 30 kms into it. How sad is that!?  So I stop for a break on the side of the steep hill. A bull in a nearby paddock comes up to the fence and huffs and puffs and glares at me. I look back at him and say, “Fuck off.” With my tiredness comes irritability. Ahem.

I eventually get up the motivation to climb the steep ridge in front of me. I have two energy levels at the moment which resemble a slow cooker: low and warm. I start at low and then at some point, my muscles have had enough and I shift back to warm. The trouble with this disease is that something goes wrong at the cellular level with energy metabolism. It is very complex, but one of the things it does is force your body to produce energy anaerobically. You know what that means: lactate build-up. And if that is not cruel enough, your body then has lots of trouble clearing that lactate. So you end up with a bunch of trash at cellular level that builds up to cause the fatigue. The sensation in your muscles is the weirdest thing – it is a strange combination of that familiar lactic acid burn, combined with a cramp and the feeling you get when your leg has been asleep and the blood starts to return. You would have to feel it to believe it.

All I know is that once I start to feel that – I am done. The ‘low’ energy switch flips to ‘warm’. I have no power. I have no force. My legs are dead. My legs feel like lead from the knees down all the time, but I can still produce some strength. But once that tingly lactate thing starts – it’s over. All I can do is turn pedals with no strength to push into it.

And so that all kinda sucks when there is a monster hill in front of you. So I spin and push and feel like shit. We crawl up that hill at incredibly slow speeds. This cannot be my body.

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We just came over that hill, down that road to the creek and are now climbing back to the next ridge.

We reach the top to look over another creek valley. We fly down and start another long, slow climb back out. We roll over undulations and enjoy the granite tors that stick out of the rounded hill tops in all sorts of rounded and fantastical shapes. There is one steep climb – over 12 percent for part – that takes everything I’ve got. What do you do when your muscles don’t have any power? I’m not sure how we get up that bit, but we do. I guess when your muscles have no power, you have to rely on willpower. That is in short supply, too, though, and I know this is all very bad for me.

Luckily, there is only one more steep hill as we climb past the rock formations called Bishops Mitre. There is a farmstay house that sits just beneath this – the original cottage on the property before they built a newer, nicer home. The setting is nice – the cost is reasonable. I begin scheming to come back in spring, rent the place for the weekend and do day rides of all the roads I’m not going to be able to do on this trip. I love the hills, the scenery, the low traffic roads. My body is just not on board with the idea of doing this all loaded at the moment.

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Lots of big granite boulders to gaze at as you go.

The road has been crap for awhile now, and it continues to be very corrugated all the way into Ruffy. Not long before the little town, we get long views over the plateau – we’ve made it. As I roll into town, there are cars parked everywhere. Ruffy has a produce store, a community centre (in the old primary school), a public hall and a CFA shed. That’s it. Several groups of people are walking down the road to their vehicles. They all smile and say hello, but they are very nicely dressed and seem pretentious. I pass the public hall – there is a spit roast and auction going on to raise funds for orangutans in Borneo.

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Almost to Ruffy. We’ve made it up on the plateau – about 560 metres here. We’ll climb up that range over there tomorrow before crossing over it and heading off the plateau. That range is about 100 metres higher than here.

I roll on and head up a hill through beautiful remnant veg in the road reserve. There are manna gums with smooth bark up high and rough, scruffy bark at the base. There are peppermints and mountain swamp gums – a ‘chunky’ sort of tree with lots of lateral branches and burls. Gorgeous.

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The trees on this particular road were really beautiful – a shame to turn off of it and head up to our campsite, really.

The sun is getting low. It’s 4pm. It gets dark just before 6pm. We turn off for the recreation reserve. I’m looking for a toilet and a water refill. The thing about the Strathbogies is that the Shire does not allow camping on public land like road reserves. Most Councils do – particularly if there is no caravan park nearby. But the feeling I get from up here is that there are a lot of people with money, and they do not want to share their area with the riff-raff and certainly don’t want them staying overnight in the park.

Sure enough – there is a big “NO CAMPING” sign at the reserve. It’s hoity-toity enough to have a dressage ring (most reserves just have a cricket/footy oval and some change rooms) and shelter. I climb the fence. The public toilets are locked and a pile of leaves has formed a foot-tall drift at the door. I do find a water spigot by the dressage shelter. If you are very thirsty, I am sure it would be okay to drink, but it is very, very metallic tasting. I figure I can make it to Yarck tomorrow on the 1.5 litres I have left.

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Riff-raff is not welcome here, even though there is no caravan park anywhere near by for competition.

So the rec reserve is a bust. BUT, there is an old road reserve that continues past the rec reserve. If you follow the old road reserve far enough, you get to a nature reserve.  We’re not going that far – but we are going to carry the bike 300 metres or so back into that old road reserve and camp for the night. The riff-raff is exhausted and doesn’t care about rules.

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Road reserves are Crown land. This one never had a road put through. It looks like a perfect spot to spend the night.
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Yeah, that’s a good spot. The path is a kangaroo trail not a people one.

Day 2 – Always take the squiggly roads

I wake about 7.30am. One of the other cruel things about this illness is that your sleep gets all screwed up. Your body doesn’t get to some of the deep, rejuvenating sleep stages and no matter how much you’ve slept, you wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all. Then, on the really unlucky nights, you wake up and can’t sleep for a few hours in the middle – even though you are more exhausted than you’ve ever been before in your life.

Yet, I slept straight through. You must appreciate small victories. I’m still tired as *&*% , but my muscles don’t hurt more than normal, and I don’t feel like I’m suffering from any cognitive dysfunction (that normally comes 48 hours after overexertion, though). Today, I’m going to express it to Yarck and cut out a hilly day of wandering around the plateau to various nature reserves. The wandering around that I had planned to do up here on the plateau is obviously more ambitious than what I can do. I cannot express the immense frustration this brings – for someone that never really questioned whether she could do a ride from the physical side of things, knowing that she could always just push through, push the bike, ride any distance required… to having to shave off part of a tour that was already buzzed right down to a number 1 cut of no difficulty…. Ugh.

So I pack up, carry the bike and bags separately to the end of the road, load the bike, and then head out in the cool of morning. There is already wind. But I love the cool mornings. I love goosebumps for the first kilometer. This never-ending summer just has me wanting to cuddle up in warm things and not sweat for a couple months!

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Nice views as we head along the plateau.

We roll up and down gentle hills on the plateau, as we look across to other ridges and down to swampy creeks. I turn south at Terip Terip and then turn off again on the road that heads to Yarck. This is a squiggly line road that passes through two nature reserves. You know what squiggly on a map means. Always ride the squiggly roads. They are always the most scenic and they follow the contours of the land. Always go for squiggly.

These squiggles do not disappoint. First, we crawl along a straight line as the road gently climbs along the length of the Black Range. There was a “Roads to Recovery” sign at the start of the road – so it has been resurfaced recently with grant funds. However, it was long enough ago that the slippery, top layer of gravel as been flung to the side. We have fabulous views through the trees over the whole plateau. Good stuff.

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The Terip Terip Road has been resurfaced recently. It’s a good one. We follow these signs for a donkey farm until we drop off the plateau. Who buys donkeys? Who needs donkeys? Is that a sign that you’ve got too much money if you decide you need a donkey for your farm collection?
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Nice views over the whole plateau. We camped last night off to the right of this pic and came from just about the centre horizon yesterday.

We roll through a road cut as we crest the range, and we then commence 10 kms or so of squiggle heaven. The road rolls down off the plateau, curving in and out of each drainage. We descend so gently I don’t have to use the brakes too much. The trees overarch the road. They grow tall on the slopes. We get awesome views through the haze to the series of ridges between here and the other part of the plateau. We squiggle on down and see not a single vehicle. The road, the squiggles, the trees, the breeze, the silence and the downhill run are ours alone. I may whinge about not feeling well, but I really do appreciate and am grateful that I can do at least as much as this – that I have a job with 4 weeks pro rata annual leave and the resources to do this for fun.

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Cresting the Black Range.
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Beautiful views to the other plateau. The three ridges in the middle-distance were on our menu originally, but we are going to have to give them a miss this time. The fuzz is fog and smoke haze.
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See the road over there heading downhill? Squiggles are awesome.
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Does it get any better than this?

We finally roll out of the forest and along an open downhill through pasture to the pavement. The road surface has been excellent all the way through. Well, almost all the way through. It is obvious that they did the work from each end… because there was about 750 metres right in the middle that was really awful and chunky and rocky and in poor condition. Someone must have miscalculated the amount of gravel needed, or they calculated costs based on 12 kilometres instead of 13.

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Looking back up to the plateau as we head down to Yarck.

Yarck sits on the main highway. It has a pub, a couple cafes, a general store/post office and a church. It has its own bumper sticker “Where the Farck is Yarck?” Some cyclists will be familiar with it as it sits on the Great Victorian Rail Trail that runs from Tallarook to Mansfield.

I stop off at the rec reserve needing to refill water. However, the water in the public toilets is ‘not suitable for drinking’. So I enjoy a few almonds and the last of my water out of one bottle. It’s not been hot this morning, so I’ve still got one litre left. That will get me to Merton if I have something to drink in town. Importantly, Murrindindi Shire doesn’t have the same attitude to riff-raff as Strathbogie, and it looks like you could camp here with no issues (there is a shelter if it’s pouring).

I head into the General Store. My guts won’t do a meat pie at the moment (the store does some of its own and also have some ‘gourmet’ ones for sale). But I can do sugary stuff. And all the baked goods are homemade. I get a hedgehog slice that is more like Rocky Road – but it is definitely homemade and tasty. I pair it with a chocolate milk. This is a real test. I haven’t had milk in months. But I figure I’ll be close to a toilet tonight – so let’s risk it.

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General store at Yarck.
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Hedge-hog Rocky Road type thingie – technically, CLC Ride 8 purchase.

I also buy a Coke to take with me, in case one litre of water isn’t enough to get me up the hill to Merton Gap. We head out on the rail trail. I’ve done this section several times – always going the other way. It is not exciting and not overly scenic. For much of it, the highway runs a couple hundred metres away. But, once again, I’ve had to scale back my plans. Originally, I was going to ride over a few hills on back roads to Merton… but after yesterday, I need to take it very easy today since tomorrow has another 400 metre elevation gain in the climb back to the plateau.

So we just do the boring old rail trail. In my memory, this section has the worst surface, too. In reality, it’s okay. The gravel is bigger than a cyclist would prefer, but it’s pretty smooth. And since I’m going uphill today, I don’t get the black dust all over my legs… I’m going too slow.

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Road is quite close to the rail trail through this section.
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Views back toward the plateau.

The road finally diverges from the trail as we head up a circuitous route to Merton Gap. The grades are very easy and the views back to the southern Strathbogie Plateau are nice. More immediate in view are rounded, bald hills and some regrowth gum along the trail. It is pleasant – not outstanding. But it is an absolutely gorgeous autumn day – perfect in almost every way. I could do without the headwind and the smoke haze, but in every other way, you don’t get more perfect than this. I wish I was slogging it out on new roads over the hills, but I am grateful for perfect weather and for not feeling overly crappy.

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Embankment taking us up toward Merton Gap.
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Cutting.
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Merton Gap – looking back toward the plateau. The truck is on the highway which meets back up with the rail trail at the gap.
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Echidna. Sorry she is blurry, but I zoomed in from a distance so as not to bother her.

After the gap, we’ve got a gentle downhill all the way to Merton. I pedal hard, stand, coast. Pedal, stand, coast the five kilometres to Merton. I stop to get a drink for tomorrow’s ride at the petrol station and then head up to the recreation reserve. We are now in Mansfield Shire and they don’t mind you camping at the rec reserve either. This one is actually the racecourse – so it’s got sheds and barns and a hall. It’s also got a shelter where they sell alcohol at the race meets, so if the weather was poor you could camp in there and have protection from rain and wind. But today, it’s just gorgeous and I’ve got my pick of a dozen picnic tables. The caravans aren’t allowed up this end, so I’ve got it all to myself.

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Merton Racecourse – home for the night. If the weather was crap you could set up in that concession shelter. Be aware, the highway noise is quite loud here through the night.

It is only 1pm. But we are done for today. Hopefully, the easy day today means we can get ourselves back up on the plateau tomorrow. I spend the afternoon napping, looking at maps and figuring out how I can pick up some of the roads I missed on this ride on a long weekend ride next spring. I may feel like shit now, but I always have hope and I’m always figuring out routes to get those unridden roads.

Day 3 – Squiggles for the win again

I slept straight through again. I am exhausted but not anymore than normal. This new normal is sooooo weird. Through the evening yesterday and then this morning, I conclude that milk is okay, but probably better not to have more than 250 mls at a time. I also conclude that cranberries are NOT okay. For sure, I miss the days when I could eat anything and ride any distance without thought.

The tent is soaked with dew and condensation. I pack up slowly. It is quite cool this morning and there is a bunch of high cloud. The tent doesn’t really dry while I do everything else, but it is at least not dripping when I roll it into the pannier.

The smoke haze is thick today, too. Add in asthma to the fatigue – this should be great!!

But it actually is never that bad. I’m a little croaky, but it doesn’t impact my riding. Our first 750 metres is up the rail trail. We then swap that for the shoulder of the main highway for 500 metres until we get to the turn-off for the Merton-Strathbogie Road.  It is paved to start and undulates over small hills and creek crossings until we get to the base of the plateau. I see two cars on the way to the climb, but I will not see any cars on the ascent. Blissful riding.

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It is very hazy today. We are heading up the gully behind that cleared hill.

I’m not sure what to expect, but the road condition is excellent. We wind up a narrow creek valley on the edge of a ridge past lots of little lifestyle blocks tucked in the trees. No fancy gates or irrigated lawns on these ones – so people with money but not heaps and heaps of it.

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Well, let’s see how we go.

The first part of the climb has the narrowest contour lines on the topo map, so once I get through this bit with little difficulty, I am confident the 9 km climb will not be a struggle. And it isn’t. It’s just another gorgeous squiggly road with a good surface. We climb up through the trees and rounded boulders. We attain the ridge and follow it up onto the plateau. The road surface deteriorates as we roll back into Strathbogie Shire, but it is acceptable. Once we get onto the plateau itself, we’ll hit pavement. The rest of the roads today, chipseal and gravel, will be in good to great shape.

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Pretty perfect. The grade is easy most of the way.
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Yes, we’ll take 8 kms of that. Up or down.
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Almost there.

Once to the plateau edge, we get nice long views through the smoke haze across marshy paddocks, deep creek lines and treed ridge lines. I will see two cars up here on the plateau and the road leading off of it over the next four hours. I really need to come back here and fill in all these roads! Good road surfaces, no traffic, lots of hills to climb, nice views….

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Our first glimpse of the plateau.

I take an indirect route across the plateau, trying to keep the elevation gains to a minimum. I am very, very happy with how well we got up the climb today, but I know I need to hold back, pace myself, and stay away from any overexertion. Besides, whatever we ride will be new roads, and there will be roads left for the future.

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Lots of scenery like this: farms, swampy low ground, hills.
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And granite and other volcanics just poking their heads up here and there in fields and on hilltops.
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And in the end….
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Looking back over to Mt Wombat – highest point on plateau and 800 metres. We rode up that one in 2016 – almost exactly two years ago.

I stop for a short snack break and give the guys a float on Seven Creeks. This is the main creek on the plateau and the creek that runs through, and occasionally floods, Euroa. We’re in the upper reaches here, and it is late autumn, so it is quite a tiny little thing. It’s enough for the guys to relax though while I put in some fuel.

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Seven Creeks.
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How can you deny a frog and turtle some time on the water?

We have more gentle hills on deserted roads and more gorgeous tree-lined road reserves. This has been a really good day.

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Mt Separation – a big dome of granite that is on public land. I’ll save it for another time when the views won’t be so hazy. It is 737 metres high.
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More gorgeous roads. This is Ankers Road.
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Mt Barranhet – 827 metres. Accesible to public – about to be planned burned within next 10 days.

Then we round the corner and are confronted with the industrial landscape of the pine plantations. Ugly. Ugly. And it’s not even being used for homes or anything like that – that is all being pulped for cheap paper.

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Yuck.

We have a rip-roaring descent to a creek and then a climb to 700 metres as we round the base of Leerson Hill. This is native forest on the hill, but still under private leased title. The only reason it isn’t pine is because the granite sits right below the surface or outcrops in big slabs.

We hit our high point for the day and look out over the sea of pines to ridges in the distance. And then we take off on the downhill off the plateau. The gravel is somewhat big, but not terrible like it can be in some pine areas, and it is slippery in spots. I keep the brakes on pretty tight through those really steep slippery bits, but I let it fly on the shallower grades where I can see far ahead. It’s a little slippery, but I’m out of the saddle, knees flexed, hips guiding… so it’s all okay.

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We’re about 700 metres here – about to descend through the sea of pine.

Then it’s not. I hear an explosion like a gunshot. I immediately know I’ve exploded a tube. The rear end fishtails for a second, as I put on the brakes and come to a controlled stop. I must admit, a few seconds of that was a wee bit scary. In the seven or so seconds it takes to stop from a rolling speed of about 44kph, the tire has completely rolled itself off the rim. I pick up the bike and carry it off the road. I pull off all the panniers, flip the bike over, release the skewer and have a look. At least I don’t have to pry the tire off the rim as usual.

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And that is the end of it.

I’ve got no idea what’s happened. Did the tube explode on its own? Did I hit a rock funny? No idea. I do know I didn’t like this tube when I put in a few months ago. I thought it felt funny. Maybe it was a bad lot of rubber? It looks like it might have been rubbing on itself – and then exploded down the seam? Weird. The tire is fine, though. There’s nothing wrong with it and there’s no hole or rip in the sidewall or tread.

I set about putting in a new tube. I put the tire back on the rim. I inflate. Hmmm… there is a little bulge in the sidewall sorta opposite to where the tube exploded. Weird. I deflate. I reinflate. Little bulge is still there. Hmmm…. I’ll keep an eye on that.

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Pinch in the tube there? It is not from the spokes and I can’t find any damage to the tire there. It wasn’t caught under the tire either.

I put the wheel back on the back. I clamp down the skewer. It seems like it is okay – and whatever has happened hasn’t ‘dished’ the wheel, as it sits in there straight. But, oh dear, when I go to roll the wheel… it rolls and then comes to an abrupt halt. There is a huge wobble in the rim. Even with the brakes disengaged, it doesn’t clear the left pad. I inspect the wobble. I can tell which spoke is loose – and it is sort of opposite the outward wobble.

I sit down. I contemplate pulling out the spoke wrench and having a go at the loose spoke and working my way around the rim. I think about the other ‘in the field’ remedies for truing rims that I vaguely recall in my head. I’m not strong enough for most of those. I pull out my phone to see if I have any reception. Maybe I can google my way out of this.

I have one bar – enough for texts, not enough for internet use. I do what you do in this sort of situation. I defer the problem. I sit there and eat a peanutbutter bar and drink some soft drink. In that time, I have not come up with a real plan.

I decide I am not game to use the spoke wrench. At the moment, the wheel will roll if I remove the brake pad. If I make things worse, I could be carrying a bike instead of pushing it. And I can tell you, we would not get far. I have not seen a car in four hours. I am 20 kilometres from the nearest town – but at least that will mostly all be downhill.

I decide I’m going to walk and push the bike to town. I’m feeling a fair bit of cognitive dysfunction today (it’s from pushing too hard on Day 1), so I congratulate myself on what I think is pretty clear and rational thinking. I can push to the edge of the forest tonight – about 5 kms – and then do the rest into town tomorrow. I have about a litre of water and 150 mls of soft drink left, but I can ration that.  The only problem is that tomorrow is a public holiday, so nothing will be open in that little village, and I may have trouble getting a bus and finding somebody who could look after my bike. Then, I will have to find somewhere to print a bus ticket and then a train ticket (they won’t accept anything shown on your phone). I am not sure how long all of this will take. I’m thinking it’s going to take about three days to get to Albury – if I can get it all to work somehow. Then I’d need to drive back down to get my bike on Saturday. It’s do-able. It’s more than more my poor head can handle right now, but it’s workable.

So, plan in place, I start pushing the bike downhill. It’s such a shame we’re not riding this. Eventually we pass out of the pine plantation and it all becomes quite beautiful in the forest. We have views over to other rounded ridges, conical lumps and knolls, and native forest off into the distance.

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We will be coming back to finish this one off. Hoofing it right now.

A couple kilometres downhill, I think, maybe Nigel could come get me tomorrow. It’s a public holiday, so he won’t be working. Then I tell myself, no, we know better than to rely on him anymore. His mood and irritability are too unpredictable these days. We could catch him on a bad day. But…. it would only take him three hours to come get me and return me home… and I’m looking at three days just to get back to Albury and then another half day to drive down, retrieve bike and go back. He did say to call him and he’d come get me.

I stop and contemplate this for a few minutes before I descend lower and out of any phone range. I finally decide to text him and see what he says. “Can u come get me 2morrow in swanpool? I’m ok but rim fucked.”

I wait. Ten minutes later I get a message. “OK. Call l8ter.”

Okay, so we just need to camp tonight and get ourselves to town tomorrow. This won’t overtax my head or body. So I head on down to the edge of the forest, follow an illegal track into the bush, then carry my bike to a nice, little flat spot near the edge of the forest. I set out the tent to dry, go for a climb up through some gorgeous boulders at the top of the adjacent ridge following kangaroo trails, then retreat to set up the tent and relax. I’m very tired and definitely have done way more than enough for the day.

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Views from the edge of the forest near our camp.
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Going for a wander among the boulders on a ridge line.
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A human for scale.
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This was actually a really nice spot. Too bad we didn’t get to spend the night here.
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Messing around on the rocks.

I relax in the tent. I turn the phone on to see if I can get radar – I have two bars of service here at the edge of the forest. I have a text from Nigel: “coming to get you now. Will call when I’m close.” Crap. I’ve got no idea when he sent that, and I’m not in Swanpool. I text him back: “Ok. Not in swanpool yet. Directions to follow.” I send him directions to where I am. I pack everything back up and head back to the edge of the road. I sit and wait. Darkness begins to descend.

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My stinky shirt on the road sign to help alert my position. We waited for about 40 min.

Nigel arrives in a cloud of dust just before dark. I can tell immediately I’ve made a mistake. He doesn’t even speak to me. He just flings down the gate to his ute, then goes over to the bike, grabs my phone sitting on the handlebar bag, rips Kermit and Verne out of the pocket and then throws them in the cab. He wrenches my bike from the post it’s leaning against and shoves it in the ute. I climb in. He throws the truck in reverse and peels out of the gravel. He flies down the road at stupid speeds. I’m used to his fast driving, but this is scary. I offer to get a motel in Benalla for the night and treat him to his favourite pub meal, but he just curses at me and says he just wants to go home.

The rest of the drive home (1.5 hours), his anger builds and builds. Once we get back to his place and my car, he explodes. It is a level of rage that is incomprehensible to people like you and me who don’t suffer from mental illness. But is a rage that I’ve come to know over the past five years and one of the reasons I couldn’t stay with him. He never hits anyone, but he punches holes in walls, throws things and does other horrible stuff.

The rage has never been directed at me before, but tonight, I’m scared. I’m afraid he’s going to throw Verne and Kermit against the bricks, or that he’ll damage my bike further throwing it out of the truck. But he just throws his stuff around, screams and yells and nearly rips the door off the hinges (he’s done that before). He stomps into the house and comes back with my keys and yells at me. The obscenities and language directed at me are awful. It is abusive. It is just as bad as someone punching you to the ground and kicking you in the guts. The hurt lasts just as long, too. He storms back into the house, slams the door and goes to take a shower.

It is dark. I’m working to disassemble the bike and load it in my car with just the boot’s little light. I also need to load my 10 pots of plants that Nigel has been looking after while I was riding. I’m kicking myself over and over. I knew better. I absolutely knew better. I should have done the bus/train. But he had been on such good behavior in Melbourne and he had looked me directly in the eyes and said, “call me if you need me” when he dropped me off…. Damn it, I knew better.

As I’m loading the last of the plants in the back seat, Nigel comes out. He picks up two pots. I’m afraid he’ll throw them down and destroy them. But he loads them in the car. He sees the tears on my cheeks and says, “I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at the situation. I wanted a quiet night. And I had to go fucking drive for three more hours.” I don’t say anything to him. I get in the car. He tries to hug me, and I say, through my tears, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I knew better.” He tries to hug me and says, “Oh babe, I’m not angry at you, it’s just the situation. You can’t drive like this. Stop it.”  I tell him to leave me alone.

I reverse the car out of the drive. I’m in no shape to do the 45 min drive home. I’m way too fatigued from the physical efforts of the day, and now the emotional distress. I think I could go into Albury and get a room for the night. But my head is just too tired. I can do the drive. I know it by heart from all the commuting daily for several years.

And so I drive home. My week-long-abbreviated-super easy-not-what-I’d-hoped-to-do tour finished prematurely after three days. That was my only chance for a tour of any kind this year. Nigel’s abusive language and anger, and my frustration at this illness and what it means for my my life – my riding – means I cry all the way home. I keep telling myself, “You’re okay, Em. You’re ok.” But I cry anyway.

Just outside of town, a 4WD comes flying up behind me and sits right on my arse for a couple minutes. I keep thinking – ‘just go around. Just overtake you arse!” In my rearview mirror in the dark with those headlights shining in my eyes, I cannot tell that it is a cop. It’s only when he finally goes around me that I see it is a police vehicle. He was sitting back there running my rego and licence (licence plate number is connected to rego number and driver’s licence number in NSW and they can run it all in one go). I was speeding (about 7 kph over), so I’m happy he didn’t pull me over. It would have been embarrassing with the tears….

I get home. I shower. I cry some more. I tell myself to buck up and get over it. It is what it is. It could be so much worse. The riding we were able to do was beautiful. I didn’t feel too horrible most of the time. I am getting better at knowing what we can and can’t do. I am able to eat more and more foods again. My sleep is a little better most of the time. (And the cognitive dysfunction won’t be as bad in the coming days as the past three-day rides we did in March). We’ve got ideas for how to get those roads we didn’t ride this time. It will be okay. There will be more bike tours – we’ll get more roads. The bike will get fixed and we’ll pedal onward. Because that is what we do.

 

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End of this ride. Waiting on our trail ‘angel’ to come abuse us. But we’ll be back. Chronic illness, banged up rims and life in general can’t keep us from the road.

7 thoughts on “Plan B – April Ride 3 – The tour that wasn’t

  • Wow. Thanks for such a well written and honest account. I’m so sorry that your health issues are having such a huge impact and applaud your drive to keep giving things a go and seeing what’s possible. Take good care of yourself and GET WELL SOON!!! Catherine.

    • Thank you for your support, Catherine. I’m trying to do all the things I can to ‘get well’ – there are too many roads to ride to stay sidelined for too long! Em

  • Hi Emily,

    Your trip had many interesting “ups” and some sad “downs” but always great writing. I’m really sorry it ended so badly. I must say, though, that I now have a couple MORE reasons to admire you: I know I can’t truly feel the pain and fatigue you suffer due to your illness, but just from your descriptions I’m amazed how well you adapt to get out there and do what you do. I’d like to think I would do the same thing in such circumstances but, really, I don’t know if I could.

    The other thing I admire is that despite your disease, despite how you’re feeling, despite how you’ve had to cut back on the difficulty and the duration of your bike rides, despite the other issues in your personal life, you are always able to muster a smile in your pictures of yourself. You’ll be just fine.

    Greg

    • Hi Greg – thanks so much for your kind words. I am very lucky that I am very resilient (thank whichever parent those genes came from). I have a bad day, cry a bit or say some curse words or both, and then I get over it and move forward. And believe me, there are days with the fatigue that I don’t do anything and feel like I’m not being adaptable at all! Overall, I think I am getting better very slowly… it is just not at a visible or constant speed which is what is so frustrating for me. I am smiling because I really do have a good time amongst all the crap 🙂

  • Ah – the Yarck Pie Shop – that brings back memories of last years CLC and the pie I had there. Also the petrol station at Merton – water and an ice cream I needed there !

    You’re right. You shouldn’t be riding at my speeds and distance at your age – this illness is a very debilitating thing. My understanding is that people take differing lengths of time to get over it but why that is so is not understood – as you say, it does complex things to you.

    Keep on cycling but don’t worry about small and slow distances – your physical strength will come back. You inner strength will make it.

    Tony

    • Thanks, Tony. If you ever do the Great Vic Rail Trail again… you can get drinkable water in Merton out at the racecourse (1 km from petrol station) in the public toilets. I was lucky it wasn’t too hot on the 2nd and 3rd days of this ride – water availability would have been more of an issue in summer when you need to drink more. I hope I can keep up some patience for the strength to come back – it’s ok to feel crappy for a while, but many more months or years will be testing! Em

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