Total Kilometres: 94 kms (59 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 1970 kms (1224 miles)
Ugh, it’s all I can see. It jumps right out at me.
It’s just one small part of the big map on my wall where I mark off the roads I’ve ridden.
Yes, it’s the Strathbogies and we filled in a bit more of the roads there over three days at the end of April.
BUT, all I see is that black bit that just all-of-a-sudden ends. That black line that doesn’t loop or join other lines. The line that just looks like a branch hanging out there in the wind.
It’s been bugging me all week. The big map sits above my computer and I’ve been looking at it each evening the past two weeks. It’s the end point of our aborted tour – the point where we stopped rolling when I blew a tube and wrecked the rim. I fear I’m going to have to look at that unfinished line all winter – it will be too cold and wet to want to ride up there soon.
But, our summer that just won’t end is serving up more good weather this weekend. My bike is back from the shop after a service… sporting a brand new rim. The old one was not salvageable. So we are heading back to the Strathbogies to finish off that unfinished black map line. We’ll approach our previous end-point from a different direction – picking up more new roads I’d hoped to do in the future. That future is now as we finish off the past on our present ride.
I force myself out of bed pretty early for the 1.5 hour drive to Violet Town. It’s a straight shot down Three Chain Road from Corowa to Wangaratta, then light traffic on the freeway all the way to the Violet Town exit.
Violet Town has a strip of unimpressive shops, a petrol station and a train station. My only real memory of Violet Town is stopping here on the way back from Adelaide in 2000 and getting a pastie from the general store that was the worst one I’ve ever had in my life. Nigel also got the worst meat pie of his life there. I also stopped here in 2016 only to find that the gravelly caravan park doesn’t take tents. That’s all I remember about Violet Town.
Today I park the car on a grassy strip near the old, vacant two-story pub. I hope my car will be there when I get back tomorrow. There’s not a lot of violent crime in Australia, and I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere, but car thefts in this part of Oz are not uncommon. I’ve personally known three people who have had their cars stolen, joy-ridden and burnt out… and I don’t know that many people! Never leave your car at the Albury train station, airport or on the street overnight in Lavington. We’ll see about Violet Town….
Once I’ve got the bike packed up, I roll down to the café. The café is the old general store where the nasty pastie came from 18 years ago. The café looks marginally better menu-wise. I just get a brownie and a caramel slice for the road. They are expensive – $9 in total. I think $5-6 would be a fairer price. I don’t know why – but Violet Town just doesn’t do it for me.
The road out of town and up to the Strathbogie Plateau does do it for me, though. Harry’s Creek Road is a narrow and winding ascent up through a narrow valley. Forest overhangs the road and there are views to the rocky hills lumping away from the creek on the other side. The valley is very tight to start. We work our way up through that crevice in the shade of the trees. It was only 3C to start this morning. I could see my breath while I assembled the bike. We may have finally got to the season where you seek sun instead of shade. Nothing like 8 months of summer… phew!
The rocks we are riding up through are piles of volcanic rocks that have filled an old caldera from about 370 million years ago. Compared to where we rode on our aborted tour on the southern part of the plateau, these rocks are smoother and more fine-grained. There are no big, rough quartz crystals and lumpy tors. These are extruded rocks – rhyodacites and the like – compared to the granite intrusions we rode over a couple weeks ago. The granite is magma that pooled beneath the surface and was exposed by uplift and erosion. These volcanic rhyodacites are lumps of magma expelled into the air. I really enjoy looking at these boulders in the roadcuts and littered on the hillsides above the creek across the valley.
If you’d like the whole geological story, this page does a good job of explaining where we’ve ridden the past two rides:
There is a car heading into town every 3-5 minutes, but no one overtakes me from behind as I pedal the crew and myself upward. Eventually the valley widens out once we get a couple kilometres from the top. The clouds are building and it becomes overcast by the time we reach the plateau. We had a cold front come through on Thursday and Friday. The clouds and the southwest wind linger on, even though the front is long-gone.
We climb and climb those first 12 kilometres until we pop out onto the plateau. We then climb more gentle inclines interspersed with flat bits. It’s the same scenery as our previous ride: farmland, pine plantation and remnant vegetation rolling down to deeply incised creeks. Tall ridges and isolated hills are cloaked with trees about their tops but with naked pasture down below.
I am still enjoying those volcanic rocks on the roadside. In fact, I’m admiring one deeply at about 6kph when a cyclist overtakes me and says hello. He chats to me for a second – he’s riding a 300 kilometre loop out of Shepparton on an Audax ride. Good on him – it makes me feel incredibly lazy and terrible, though. I’m only going about 45 kilometres today, and even that is probably more riding than I should.
I ride along thinking about the day I rode 209 kilometres – fully-loaded at altitude with a decent elevation gain and no tailwind. It’s my personal distance record, but I do think, if I had touring fitness built, I could do a 300 km Audax event on a road bike with no gear without too much trouble if the conditions weren’t too hot or windy (they’ve got great conditions today – cool, cloudy and no wind). But we are sooooo far away from that at the moment.
I roll on. Another couple guys pass me over the next 30 minutes or so. I stop for a break at Boho South. I have not eaten yet today. It is about 11am. So I break out the caramel slice – it won’t travel as well as the brownie. I feed Verne and Kerrmit. The caramel slice is quite nice – and the chocolate base is a nice change from a pastry or a crumbly coconut/arrowroot biscuit type base. I don’t know if it is $5 good – but it will keep us going for a couple hours, so we’ll give it a thumbs-up. It is universes better than the nasty pastie 18 years ago!
I roll on – climbing a long gentle hill. I can hear a group of cyclists slowly gaining on me. I’m happy with how my body is going today – my biggest issues are a blocked and runny nose and a fair bit of asthma wheeziness (it’s all from the cool, damp air). But my muscles aren’t hurting yet and I don’t feel like I want to curl in a ball and sleep.
The group catches me and the first guy says, “Hey, nice job!” (I don’t know why roadies feel like they have to tell me I’m doing well- this is definitely not the first time a speedy guy has had to ‘reassure’ me). As I say, “Thanks – have a good one!”, the guy passing right next to me exclaims, “OH, WOW, EMILY!!”
I recognize his voice immediately, and then his face. If he hadn’t said anything I never would have recognised him – MAMILs in sunglasses and helmets all look alike! It’s my old PhD supervisor. I haven’t seen him in three or four years. How cool is this? He hangs back to ride and chat with me for a few minutes. He retired from the uni last year, and he is looking incredibly slim and fit. He says that he is using the Audax event as training for a big endurance race he’s doing at the beginning of June. He’s taking part in the TransAtlantic Way ride in Ireland – a 2500 kilometre, single-stage, self-supported race. (If you’re a dot-watcher and want to follow him, message me privately and I’ll give you his name). We do a quick catch-up, and he just laughs after he asks me where I’m staying tonight and I say, “ah, somewhere in the forest.”
Then he is off to catch up with his group. What are the chances of meeting an old friend on some random road 150 kilometres from home? It is a little crazy to think about all the things that had to line up for us to meet before I turn off of their route just two kilometres ahead. But it brightens my day. He’s a really good person – a kind, compassionate, free spirit who’s led a very interesting life. It was great to see him looking so good and so excited after finally freeing himself from the shackles of academia.
We turn southeast on the Junction Creek Road – another new road for us. It climbs to start and there are nice views back to the hills we’ve just climbed over. We look down to an avenue of scarlet-coloured exotic trees lining a driveway. The leaves are all about three weeks in changing colour and dropping this year, too.
The road is a mix of steep climbs and descents as we cross all those northwest-trending creeks. Again, we are only passed by a few cars, and the views of the rocky hills, forest and pasture are such a pleasant backdrop to our pedaling. It is quite cool and cloudy – it will only get to 12C up here today – but I’m feeling really good. I’m doing way too much climbing, but my body is not yet complaining.
We cross our path from two weeks ago. That week we were going north and then looping back to the road into the state forest. It had a very gentle climb in elevation. Today we take Watkins Road – the straight shot to the forest entrance. In the distance we can see that the planned burn on Mt Barranhet scheduled for ‘next 10 days’ when we were up here last time has been completed. There are bits of singed, brown canopy here and there on the hillside.
Watkins Road is a roller coaster – super steep climbs mixed with steep climbs and descents. All of these bumps in the landscape are only a few hundred metres of grunt or acceleration, but it is an interval workout if there ever was one. You just don’t get to determine the interval – hundreds of millions of years of erosion have dictated that. We fly down to a creek, climb back out, undulate, fly down to a creek, climb back out.
We roll down to Seven Creeks – where the guys floated last week. There’s no way to get down to it here and the reeds clog up any floatie potential. We climb and descend a few more minor creeks. Then we cross Seven Creeks again – this time on its way north. We’ve just cut across the landscape as the creek did a big “U” shape. I stop in the mossy, moist depths of the valley for a bridge photo. There’s no real good floatie spot here either. It would be easier to get to if it were flowing with a bit more fervor.
The road curves through the floodplain past a massive boulder and fallen tree. This would be a nice, cool respite in summer! I have a look at the rocks – I’ve not really been able to pick out any of the contact points between the rhyolites and rhyodacites and the granite – we’re back to the granite batholith here.
We fly down to another empty creek and ride the momentum up and around the curve to another long, gentle climb through remnant manna gums to the end of Watkins Road. Here we meet up with all the future toilet paper, newspaper and cardboard in the same spot as Tuesday, 24 April. It is substantially cloudier and cooler today, though.
We consume our brownie. That’s a brownie? Um…. no. “Brownies” are another bakery product that the Aussies never really did too much in the past. It’s more of an American thing. This bakery product tastes mostly like a brownie – chocolate-fudgy. But the texture is oh-so-wrong. It is the same thing that was at the base of my caramel slice – and the texture is more like a biscuit (i.e. ‘cookie’) base for a slice. Blindfolded, I would never ever say ‘brownie’. Brownies need to be a gooey, undercooked, cake-like consistency. This is not a brownie. I don’t know what I’d call it. But Verne calls it good. And I don’t mind it. It will propel me through the rest of the day, so we approve of it.
We climb again through the pines and past Leerson Hill. We stop for a photo at the same spot at the beginning of the descent. There’s misty haze instead of smoky haze today, so the hills in the distance still aren’t clear.
I roll down the descent. The gravel is really good. It’s not big or rough. It’s steep in bits, but where we blew the tube is a gentle part and the gravel good. I still have no idea what happened and why it happened there instead of on the hundreds of other gravel roads we’ve ridden in the past three years at higher speeds on rougher surfaces.
I suppose it is like life, though. You roll along quite fine for quite some time, oblivious to developing issues, then one day, KABOOM! The shit hits the fan and you find yourself coated in crap and wondering what the heck just happened.
So today we cruise on down past Jan’s road with no issues – sailing downhill on a new rim and covering those 5 kms to the edge of the forest much more quickly than hoofing it a couple weeks ago.
I do stop at one intersection. There is a track that leads up to a walking track to the top of Rocky Ned. There is also a track that heads up to an old air crash site and memorial marker. They are both steep uphills, but I’ve got daylight and, surprisingly, my body is not hurting and feeling anymore fatigued than its new normal.
The track that heads to the minor track to the air crash site looks very muddy and has fresh motorbike prints, though. I think I will give that a miss. I’ve been riding a perfect non-dusty, non-muddy gravel for much of the afternoon. It’s been a little soft, but it’s not flicked up lots of dust or mud on the bike, and I like that my new chain and freshly cleaned and lubed components are still running so smoothly. No mud for us today.
The track to Rocky Ned drops to a creek and then climbs a large, granite slab. I can see a group with a fairly elaborate camping set up – kitchen tarp, gear tarp, four tents just upstream. That climb is too steep for me today, and I’m sure I’d have to share the track with the campers. I think about it for a few minutes while I drink water, but I know body really shouldn’t be doing that. I feel almost normal today, but I know I shouldn’t push it. It’s this thing called pacing… and I’m not very good at it yet. But saying no to that challenge today might mean I’m reining myself in a little.
So we cruise on downhill, pedaling the spiraling descent through the forest that we walked in April. I told you we would be back! I really didn’t expect it to be until spring, but our never-ending summer gave us a chance. Thank goodness – that unconnected black line on the map would have taunted me all winter!
Cruise on down. A ute passes me from behind. Luckily, I’m somewhere I can get over to the edge and stop for him. He smiles and gives me a big wave. His ute is loaded down with firewood… not taken from the firewood collection area.
I look for places to camp but decide I would like to go back to the other site I had planned to camp at last time before I packed up to get my ‘rescue’ from the forest. I would like that nice, little spot to have a nice, little memory to replace the ugly one. Besides, someone did all the hard work a couple weeks ago to clear off all the twigs, rocks and kangaroo poo from that site – so the site prep is already done 🙂
The clouds are clearing. Dribs and drabs of sunlight filter down from the low-angle, late-autumn sun. It is still quite cool – just 12C – so I have to strip off my sweaty high-vis shirt quickly and get my sleeping shirt and warmie jacket on quickly!
I set up the tent. We crawl in. I pull the sleeping bag over us (the guys are looking for warmth, too) and promptly take a half hour nap with my head half on and half off the pannier. Even when I feel really good, the fatigue and exhaustion are still right there, and I can fall asleep so quickly it’s almost scary (or I can lie awake, more tired than ever or wake in the middle of the night like someone’s just woken me for the day… only I’m exhausted). When you’ve been trained in scientific methods, hypothesis building and experimental design – this unpredictability and inability to match symptoms to level of activity, etc is so incredibly frustrating.
I wake up with slobber on the pannier (my asthma and runny nose never ceased today – it never got warm enough!) and my cheek pressed hard against the clip. I sit up and eat a little. I feel so good. My muscles don’t hurt much. I feel almost normal. I feel so good for so much climbing – will I really hurt tomorrow? Will I be like a zombie then? And why am I not hungry?
I don’t ponder on it too long. I look at maps – always plotting new route ideas and visualizing the landscape in my head, always thinking about how it intersects with previous rides and what the geology says in those places.
It is dark a bit before 6 pm these days. I listen to the kookaburras flying from tree to tree, cackling back and forth over territory as they dance on down through forest. Their laughs grow fainter as they head deeper into the forest. I listen to music on my iPod for a couple hours. I relax. I put on all of my clothes and tuck right down in the bag. I put on my beanie (i.e. winter hat) and pull it down over my eyes. I worry I might get cold tonight – and I worry I won’t sleep well because I’m wearing all the clothes from my pannier (wool shirt, tshirt, warmie jacket, wool socks, beanie, tights) and my ‘pillow’ is just my riding shorts. My riding socks, gloves and shirt are in my bag with me to dry overnight from my body warmth.
But I sleep. I sleep hard. For 12 hours straight. And I never get cold.
The sulphur-crested cockatoos are screeching somewhere outside my consciousness. Their obnoxious morning racket is conducted at decibels as loud as a jet engine… but sleep is a magnificent filter. I come to the morning slowly. The sun is well above the horizon, but there is still shade from the trees and the air temperature does not tempt me out of the bag.
I look at my watch. It is 8.10 am. I feel remarkably refreshed. You do not know how significant it is to say that. I very rarely feel refreshed after sleep these days. I move my legs. They don’t feel too lead-like. The lactate is gone. What? The tingly, crampy lactate feeling has dissipated? It never, ever, ever goes away like that these days. This is good. Very good.
I slip my high-vis shirt on over my wool shirt and then put the warmie jacket back on. The tent is covered in dew on the outside, condensation on the inside. I get out and pack up everything else first. It is cold enough to keep the beanie on. It is refreshing after such a long summer.
I shake out the tent and pack it wet. I don gloves for the first time since…. maybe Colorado last August? We roll down out of the forest. The road is now sealed all the way from the forest boundary – my 2012 map shows some gravel bits.
The road rolls out of the hills. Yay for sealed downhill and 50 kph! There are wisps of fog over the tops of the Samaria range across the valley (we rode that last March). Our road rolls down through thick mid-story bushes with breaks to nice views. We roll back toward the plateau and then along its front. It’s a nice long downhill. The midstorey gives way to trees and then pasture, then trees again. There are gentle, pastoral views abutting the plateau edge. We can see the singed canopy from another planned burn. (Our timing was good to ride through here just before and after, but not during, those burns!)
Our road continues to parallel the Moonee Range on our left – partially clad in pine in its midsection but covered with native forest at its toe. On our right, we can look across the valley and over to the foothills of the Toombullup State Forest (another pile of volcanic rocks from the Devonian), as they run up to the ridge of Mt Samaria State Park. Between there and here are more massive trees along the road and plenty of flat pasture (there is even some dairy in here – which indicates good rainfall). It’s a pleasant ride and I’m pleased to feel almost normal today.
Gloves and warmie jacket came off at the end of the downhill. Wool shirt comes off where we join the Midland Highway for 2 kilometres (there is a good shoulder here, but it disappears before Swanpool and becomes a road you really don’t want to ride after that – a detour over Mt Samaria or the Strathbogie Plateau to get to Mansfield or the rail trail is more scenic anyway!).
We turn off on the road to Warrenbayne. We’re skirting the plateau now, heading back toward Violet Town. We roll along yet another tree-lined road. We connect a series of small chipseal roads – all one lane and all featuring a bit of traffic. We have to keep getting off onto the dirt every 5 or so kms for a vehicle – but they are all polite and slow down for me (even the bogan, muddy 4WD and utes pulling motorbikes on trailers!). On a weekday, you’d probably get double the distance between vehicles.
We climb and descend over the outlier prongs of the plateau. The landscape is so dry – where’s the autumn break? Off to our left we can look back up to the folds and lumps of the plateau. Off to our right are the flat, alluvial plains that stretch out to the Goulburn- Broken rivers and on toward the Murray.
We turn back toward the plateau up a gorgeously tree-lined road. This road is called the Boho Church Road. We don’t ride all the way to Boho today, so we don’t see the church. But we do ride through a cathedral laneway with impressive tree spires in the form of gigantic red gums. These are some of the biggest I’ve seen, and they absolutely make my day.
We turn away from the plateau again. We’ll ride through Boho another time – the gravel road from there to the top of the plateau at Boho South (we saw the other end on our ride yesterday) looks like a good ride. We’ll mark it off at some point in the future.
Today we ride over a small ridge with good views over to the plateau before cruising along some dry and parched paddocks. The road ends at the freeway so we angle back on another road to Boho, before turning onto a connector road that leads back to the Harrys Creek Road.
The weather is absolutely perfect today. I could ride forever… if I didn’t have a screwed up body and the need to return home today. You could do just about anything outdoors today and have a great time. It is comfortable in the sun or shade. There are no flies. The sun is not scorching (I only have sunscreen on my face today and my arms don’t burn at all). It is just perfect.
But I am being a good girl. I would have really liked this to be a three-day ride. The weather will be perfect again tomorrow. But I have an appointment with my doctor to try to get a diagnosis. I just want it confirmed. I’m tired of spending money and scheduling my time around doctor visits. I know there will be nothing they can do – but I just want the diagnosis and a letter I can give to my workplace in case I need a sick day here and there when the exhaustion overwhelms. I am lucky – my coworkers have been the ones telling me to slow down, and my boss is highly attuned to how tired I look and always asks if I’m okay to finish out the day when she thinks I look really terrible. But I just want a diagnosis and a letter, so I can figure out how to go forward. There is no other direction to go. That is the only option. That’s what pedaling does – it propels you forward. And pedaling will always be a part of my forward motion… just maybe not as fast or far for awhile yet.
**My doctor calls me a ‘very interesting case’. She thinks I have myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. It is what I surmised back in March. However, ME/CFS is a diagnosis of exclusion – meaning they have to rule out everything else first. So I gave blood for 12 more tests on Tues (the phlebotomist had never seen six of them before and two weren’t even in her book) to rule out rare muscle and connective tissue diseases. I do a sleep study in the coming weeks. Then, if all of that comes back negative, then I will get sent to a specialist physician at the local hospital for a confirmatory diagnosis of ME/CFS. So good god, the diagnosis journey, five months in the making, may finally be resolved this financial year. Then the recovery journey can begin, right?**