Plan B – May Ride 3 – Six new tracks

21 May 

Total Kilometres: 17 kms (10.5 miles)

Total Kilometres: 2056 kms (1278 miles)

There’s the crunch of gravel beneath my tires, the white noise of wind in the trees. The sun comes and goes in the spaces between thick, puffy, grey clouds. There’s the pounding of my heart in my ears (we’ve lost so much fitness since December) and the rasp of the air in my lungs. We’re working our way up the spine of a ridge to views of the Indigo Creek valley and the hills east of Barnawatha. After being taken down by a rotten cold last week, it’s our first bout of pedaling in seven days.

Last Monday, I was feeling pretty flat. I feel exceedingly fatigued all the time these days, so I couldn’t really tell if it was that or something else. So I thought some fresh air would do me some good, so I headed out on the bike.

Then, I literally got a flat – my annual autumnal puncture from the goathead thorns. I rarely make it through a March-May period without at least one. By the time I fixed the puncture, I was just ready to go home.

A wounded by the bridge over the Murray River. I’ll fix the flat on the front in the warm sun before heading home.

I woke with a sore throat on Tuesday – went to work. Had a headache and sore throat on Wednesday, but persevered. By Wednesday afternoon, the cruddy had exceeded my new normal cruddy. Great (sarcastic tone).

Thursday morning, the cold had taken me down. I got out of bed for about three hours on Thursday and slept the rest. Same on Friday. I managed about six upright hours on Saturday.

I returned to the living on Sunday – but my chest was still tight. All along, I’ve been setting records for mucus production. ME/CFS means your immune system is in overdrive all the time, but the parts of that system that actually fight off bugs (killer T-cells, etc) are suppressed, so you pick up EVERYTHING. It could be a long winter….

I visited the doctor today (Monday) to get a med certificate to return to work tomorrow. She also wanted to discuss where we were up to in all of the testing for rare diseases while I was there. Half of my blood tests from last week are back – they’re all okay.

However, her colleague advised that I need even more tests before we settle on ME/CFS. At that point, I mentally screamed and cursed and banged my head against the wall. I left with referrals for a chest xray to rule out lung problems and an echocardiogram to rule out cardiac problems. I went and had the chest xray done straightaway, but I cannot get in for the heart ultrasound until 25 June!

FUCK! Excuse me, but there is no other word to describe my frustration at this point. This all means I won’t get referred to a specialist for a final diagnosis until after those results come back at the end of June. So this will all drag into the next financial year… six months in and still no diagnosis and still feeling like shit and only functioning at 40 percent capacity.

I had loaded the bike this morning with the thought that I would head down to Chiltern for a ride after going to the doctor. We’d do a short, gentle ride in the forest, just to get some clear, cool air into my lungs. I’ve progressed from tight cough to loose cough, and I’m sure it would be good to work the lungs and get in some good air to expel all the crud.

So that is what we do. I park at the Honeyeater Picnic Area and head out to mark six new roads/tracks off my list. It is a perfect temperature for riding – about 15C (59F). The clouds are grey, puffy and a bit threatening, but they do not produce anything but shade today.

It’s a short ride – just 17.36 kms, but that is just what we need. I don’t want to push too much since I only really made it out of bed yesterday. If you sometimes go for a hike, or sometimes just go for a stroll… this bike ride is the cycling version of a stroll. There are gentle hills and it’s all gravel – but we don’t push it hard. We spin up the hills and coast the rest. We are generally doing 8 kph uphill and 15 kph on the flats. It is a very pleasant day, just what my lungs ordered. We’ll cough up lots of thick yellow crap along the way to clear out the airways.

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They’ve done a planned burn here recently – looks like it burnt low and cool as planned.
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Pleasant riding on Ballarat Road.
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We come out the to the edge of the Indigo Valley for a moment. The ridge in the distance sits just outside Barnawatha. We are standing where the Dec 2015 fire first burnt into the national park. The ignition point, an electricity fault, is just a couple kms from here.
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The fire burnt pretty hot through here, but look at all the new regrowth and the new park sign.
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A bit further up, and the fire didn’t burn as hot through here – the recovery is further along, and the thick ironbark bark lived up to its name and not as many of these were killed.

Then I decide I’ll ride Pooleys Track. I don’t really think about where it might lead, I just know I haven’t done it before. It rolls away through open box and ironbark forest. It’s a good surface, and two-wheel drive, even though it is called a ‘track’.

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Looking back down as we start to climb on Pooleys Track.

And then the uphill begins. Um, this is a bit more effort than I had envisioned, but I feel okay and it’s good to get the muck out of my lungs. We ascend the ridge. Ohhhh, now I know where we are going and that means we are ascending the ridge on the southeastern side of the Indigo Valley – the ridge that bore the brunt of the fire in December 2015. Oh well, we can walk if we have to. It’s probably good to sweat a little.

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Starting to get some nice views over to other ridges.
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Looking out over the Indigo Creek valley.

The gravel turns loose and the track gets steeper and a bit rockier. But the views over the rest of the park, back off to the southwest and over the Indigo Creek valley are superb. Well worth the effort. It’s more than I’d planned, but I’m feeling okay.

Steeper, looser climbing on the spine of the ridge – burnt very hot through here.
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Really nice views all along though. We’ve climbed about 100 metres in elevation. In the far distance, you can see Mt Baranduda. It’s a very important landmark – the TV antenna that broadcasts all over this area is located up there.

We finally roll down off the ridge and then weave our way back along various tracks (White Box, Muffler, Ballarat, All Nations) through the forest. It is a perfect afternoon. It’s good to ride out my medical frustrations and breathe in that cool, clear air after feeling like death the past five days.

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Rolling back down off the ridge.
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Almost to the top of another hill on White Box track. I loved the colour of the lichen against the rocks.

There is no one about and I think about how fortunate I am to have good riding like this so close to home. I think about how lucky I am to be here in Oz having all of these tests done – where medical costs are not nearly as exorbitant as in the US and most costs have been covered by our public health system. I think about how lucky I am that the doctors are taking me seriously and are being thorough – even if it is so incredibly frustrating. I think about how grateful I am that I have made progress since those weeks over Christmas where I couldn’t eat anything and had to crawl to the toilet. I can eat most things now without too much trouble, I just ABSOLUTELY cannot overeat. It is progress – however slow and invisible. I am lucky. I am grateful. Really, I am. I’m out here on the bike and that is so much more than even some ‘normal’ people can manage.

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Yep, you would love to come ride All Nations Road, I know.
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Not in the best of health and a long way away from any sort of decent fitness… but we’re still out here, still riding…..
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Do we have to go home? Do you have to go to work tomorrow?

I roll back to the car to give the guys a float in the old cyanide dam (remember this national park was all part of a gold rush in the 1860s and there are mullock heaps, dams, etc all over the place). I come across a woman who looks familiar and whose face lights up like she might know me. But she is running at a good pace in one direction, and I’m rolling at a good pace the other direction, so we just smile and say hello. I wonder how I know her. It will probably bug me for days!

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No, we are not going for a float in that old mine hole. It’s at least 15 feet deep and I’m not sure how we’d get back out.
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Always ready for a floatie session, anytime, anywhere. Old cyanide dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area.

So we pack up the bike and I head down to the almost empty (will it ever REALLY rain again this year?) dam. I throw down some branches over the mucky mud so that I can get to the water without sinking in, and I reel out the crew on their guyline. I let them float while I finish up my drink from lunch. I could go for a wheat beer right now instead of this sasparilla, but I haven’t bought beer in ages. I wonder if my body is ready for beer again?

Funnily enough, I got stopped at an RBT set-up outside Howlong today.

The cop asked, “Have you had anything to drink in the last 24 hours?” I replied, “Nup, not this year.” He laughed. The breath test set-up were Victorian cops just barely inside the VIC border (we’d just crossed the river). You can always tell VIC from NSW because you still have to blow into a straw in VIC. In NSW, you just talk into the machine.

Hmmm…. I think we need to pack some beer on next weekend’s ride. Provided we don’t pick up another virus through the week… The weather forecast at the moment is looking good for me… not for the farmers.