Total Kilometres: 136 kms (84 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 3020 kms (1876 miles)
Day 1 – Burma Road to Holbrook (64 kms)
I think my life has been reduced to a Boolean search or two.
I am responsible for helping 100 or so staff members at work navigate our electronic recordkeeping system. It has a very powerful search engine that searches across all folders and files. Yet staff have been by brainwashed by 30 years of Microsoft and want to find records through Directory structures. When I tell them to just run a search, you’d think I’d just told them the world ended. I am constantly amazed at how little life-long officer workers know about Boolean searching. I am constantly explaining the default “AND” search and what that means when you type in a phrase with seven words.
In my life outside of work, the exhaustion that comes with ME/CFS means my days take on the characteristics of a “NOT” or “OR” search. There is no “AND”. I can ride my bike OR clean the house. I can go to work OR have energy on the weekends NOT both. And so it goes.
This weekend I have decided that I will ride my bike. Because I don’t have the energy to both ride and do anything else, all the housework, paperwork, chores, etc. will just not get done this weekend. After feeling a bit better in May and June, I significantly regressed in July. I felt absolutely shit for two weeks of the month, and then barely achieved my new normal of 40 percent capacity the rest of the month.
But we are going to go ride this weekend, because every part of me NEEDS it in the way we need oxygen to breathe. We have been having an abnormally dry winter with very little fog or rain. And I am so, so frustrated that feeling like crap has meant I couldn’t take advantage of that good weather and get in big miles as I normally would. But I am putting my foot (down) on the pedal, and I am riding Saturday and Sunday. Full Stop.
I stop at Nigel’s house, and he drives me to the Burma Road turn-off on the freeway. This cuts out 10 or so kilometres of poor roads and local soccer mom traffic that I’ve done hundreds of times but don’t enjoy. While I’m off riding today and tomorrow, Nigel will have a good look at the car I purchased a couple weeks ago and ensure that all the fluids, etc are up-to-speed.
It was clear and sunny when I left Corowa, but the low cloud still lingers among the low folds of the earth now that I’m 70 kms further east. It is not COLD as it was last weekend, but it isn’t really warm either. I’ll never need to remove my jacket today. It’s not windy, though, so really, it’s a good day to ride. It seems most people are just staying rugged up at home indoors, as I encounter very little traffic.
Today we’re going to ride up to Holbrook. I’ve done this ride quite a few times, and I really enjoy the quiet and the views on Mountain Creek Road. That’s reason enough to ride an old favourite. While I am most excited about finding new roads, there is something calming about the continuity of time and memory when riding something old.
However, I will get about 10 kms of new road today. I’ve never ridden the 10kms of the Jingellic Road just outside of Holbrook. If I detour via Woomargama, and climb the hills of the Annandayle Road, then that sets me up to get that last bit of unridden road. After today, I’ll be able to say I’ve ridden the entire Jingellic Road.
So I roll along the gentle hills of the freeway service road before turning toward Bowna on the old highway alignment. There are several pastures absolutely full of sheep – I can’t recall when I’ve seen such heavy stocking of a paddock. We are really close to being drought-declared, so maybe this is the only good paddock on the place. Maybe they are ‘crash grazing’ this paddock for a couple days. Whatever the case, that is a heck of a lot of sheep!
We continue on to the Toy Bridge. Several years ago, someone started gluing various toys and garden ornaments to the rails. Some of the little scenes were really creative and good for a laugh. Slowly, those pieces would be removed, other things added, or scenes rearranged. At one time, Barbie rested in the arms of Buzz Lightyear. Later on, she was in the jaws of a T-Rex. Those are all gone today. There are a few new items, but nothing incredibly creative this time. It does make riding this section of road fun, though, as it is always a treat to see what has changed.
We continue north as the clouds begin to lift and break a little. The old TSR at Mullengandra is a nice example of open grassy woodland, but even it is not all that green this year. I enjoy the big trees and the park-like aesthetic, but it is concerning that we are this far into winter and the vegetation still looks like it would normally look in late May.
There’s a few kilometres of freeway that must be ridden to get to the Mountain Creek Road turnoff, but the shoulder is wide and doesn’t usually have too much debris. Much of it is concrete instead of the huge chipseal you find elsewhere, so it’s a quick ride. The trucks all move to the other lane, and about half the cars provide the same courtesy.
The low angle of the sun casts silhouettes of the trees that stand on high hills. In one section, where fire once roared through, the silhouettes of tree skeletons stand in contrast to the green of the hill. They look as though they are climbing the hill, leaning in against the angle with their crazy limbs thrown all askew to maintain balance.
The creek we are following is quiet. When I’ve ridden this road at a similar time of year previously, the creek was audibly rushing downhill with gurgles and white noise. You can’t even hear a trickle today. All of the paddocks I see today with cattle in them will be strewn with supplemental feed. Not long ago, the farmers here were sending hay to farmers in Queensland to help them get through their many-year drought. Now they are having to buy it in themselves.
I like this road as it gently climbs through low hills and tops out on the divide between the Mullengandra and Billabong Creek catchments. The Billabong Creek goes on a very long meander west before it finally enters the Murray waaay downstream. From the divide, there are good views to the Yambla Range to the southwest. There are also many trees, and the dampness accentuates the pleasant and cleansing smell of tannins, tea tree and euclaypt.
The sun comes and goes creating a moving patchwork of shadows across the landscape. The screeching corellas launch from the trees in a flutter and clashing of leaves and branches as I ride past. Currawongs call out their low groaning “Fark, fark…” in the space between the shrill annoyances of those corellas.
We turn off on the Fairburn Road and ride across a wide, flat valley between the rounded hills. The road surface is rough and big-diameter chipseal. Clods of dried mud tracked along the road from a tractor moving between paddocks makes the surface even rougher. We have one sorta steep climb over a random hill before we zoom down to a creek at 55 kph. It feels good to fly for a short bit.
We climb up to the freeway, ride down it for 600 metres or so and then take the old highway into the dead town of Woomargama. No one is stirring and the pub is quiet. I stop to get in a bit of food from my pannier. I’m making decent time even though I told myself to not to push it at all today. Just spin; go slow and steady.
Not far out of Woomargama, we head up the Annandayle Road. I rode this in December 2015 when everyone was making desperate bids to race up to campsites for the December holidays. I remember this road having more cars than one might expect and some people doing stupid things when trying to overtake me.
No worries about that today. I climb the entire road in peace. I only see one vehicle in the 13 kilometres. There are views off to the forested hills of the national park to the east. The climb is gentle and the view from the top of the small range is expansive.
I feel quite good today – the best I’ve felt all month. Maybe the exhaustion and utter crap feeling I had this month came from not riding enough!! If only that was the case – sometimes after work I don’t even have the energy to make dinner, let alone ride my bike. It is good to know that there is some up in all that down though. It gives me hope. At least a little.
We fly down the hill and climb the next two smaller hills. The earth is like crunched up paper through here – some big hills interspersed with smaller ones. Nothing major, but still a few folds to zip down and crawl up.
The last 10 kms into town on the new bit of road aren’t particularly exciting. It is fairly flat as we roll down a valley between the hills. I am happy to be checking off this last bit of road, but I’m also ready to get to town. 65 kilometres of rolling hills is enough for me at the moment. I’m only carrying my two small panniers with some warm clothes, tools and a bit of food, so I don’t even really have a load. Yet, I don’t want to overdo things. Staying within your ‘energy envelope’ appears to be paramount to eventually getting well.
There’s not much happening in Holbrook. There’s a footy game going on, and there’s a number of people stopping off the freeway for lunch or a break (it’s the end of school holidays, so folks are driving home today), but it is mostly quiet. I get a steak sandwich. It tastes good. That’s a good sign. When I feel really crap, nothing tastes good either.
After lunch, I stop at the bakery. They make really good ‘wagon wheels’ – similar to what Americans call a ‘moon pie’. I get the big one – it will be good for the road tomorrow. I then debate about whether to get a caramel or vanilla slice. I finally decide to get the vanilla one. All up, it is $8. Good value for the size and quality. The bakery here (go to the one in town, not at the service centre at the freeway exit which has less selection) has a huge range of breads, pastries, pies and sweets. It’s always busy – credit to its good value and quality.
As I’m stuffing these treats in my panniers outside, a woman comes up to me with a bright green paper bag. I’ve seen these people all over town carrying a heap of them. I figured it must be a tour group on a lunch break. The woman has tried to give a bag to several people. No one will take them.
She tells me I should take the bag because it’s got treats inside. I then immediately know it’s like the man in the van – only instead of being lured in by a pedophile, I’m being lured in by a bible basher. I tell her I don’t have room to take it. She then says, “Oh, are you on the bicycle?” Um. Yes. I am wearing cycling gear, I’m standing next to the bike, and I’m actively putting things in its panniers. She then says, “Oh, you are travelling, you aren’t from here?” She insists that the bag has lollies which will be good to keep up my energy while riding. I finally concede and stuff the bag in my pannier. It turns out the Anglicans from Canberra are heading home after a youth group outing and are spreading the word of Jesus on their way.
I ride up to the motel I’ve booked. It’s pretty cheap but quite adequate – I’ve stayed there before. Since my last visit, it’s been purchased by a couple that look Sri Lankan or something similar. They are very professional and helpful. The old Aussie guy that owned it before could best be described as ‘disinterested’.
Once I get to the room, I turn the heat on to SUMMER HOT. One of the only things I dislike about Australian winter is the lack of central heating and the very poorly insulated and drafty buildings. It is hard to stay warm in the evenings at home – with electricity prices so high, I am hesitant to turn on the heat. Without any wall or ceiling insulation, and gaps around all the doors and windows, the heat escapes almost as quickly as the heater dispels it. So I’m usually wrapped in blankets and you can see your breath in my house most nights. So… it is a pleasure to be able to be warm and not wearing 32 layers of clothing!
Verne gets right into the vanilla slice while I get ready to have a hot shower. Aaaaahhhhh…. It’s been a good day, but I’m not far out of that really terrible-feeling two-week period, so I’m glad to be done. It’s only 3 pm, but I’ll spend the rest of the day just laying around and relaxing.
I check out the bag of goodies. I must say it is a very odd assortment of things. Among the lollies is a bar of soap – which is a very good thing – as this motel only has a soap dispenser in the shower. So the bag was useful! Maybe it was meant to symbolize cleansing of sin?
I have a look at the religious material. It sums up the Old Testament in three pages and then proceeds to tell the story of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke. Having never been indoctrinated as a child, it all seems as real to me as a fairy tale. Nope. Still not buying it. I am intrigued by the “Follow Your Heart” notepad. What if your heart leads you away from the teachings of Jesus – shouldn’t the notepad say, “Follow Jesus”? Maybe it would be more obvious if my heart was pure?
After watching some sports and an animated movie, I manage to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s a rarity these days. ME/CFS means poor quality sleep from a deficit in REM and slow-wave sleep stages. Disturbances in the endocrine system also mean you get surges of hormones at the wrong times which can wake you a couple hours after you fall asleep. I am no stranger to being awake from about 12-2 each night. The sleep study showed I have no sleep apnea, but I definitely don’t get to the deep (and restorative) stages of sleep, which is characteristic of this disease. Blecch. Goodnight!
Day 2 – Holbrook to Jindera via Morven (72 kms)
It is foggy and cloudy and cold. I wait for that to dissipate a little before heading out. It is still cloudy and pretty cold when I leave at 9.30am. I feel good and don’t feel any after-effects from yesterday. I really won’t know until Tues or so if I’ve overdone it; the ‘crash’ doesn’t come until 48 hours later usually.
Today we go and grab the final bits of the Holbrook-Culcairn Road that I’ve never done. There’s an 11-kilometre gap in there that I bypassed with a rough laneway once before.
There’s very little traffic. We ride through a wide and flat valley with the tree-lined 10-Mile Creek far off to the left. We also see the disused rail-line (a branch line from Culcairn off the main Sydney-Melbourne line that operated until 1975) here and there – the rail still in place and the raised earth sprouting many trees.
Eventually, Billabong Creek threads in from the north. It meets and crosses the road as it turns south around a line of hills. From here to the turn-off to Morven, the road and the creek push up against the gentle hills. The road climbs and falls as the creek meanders out a bit into the flat valley and then back up against the undulating and open hills.
We ride through Morven – a collection of homes old and new and one old pub from the Cobb and Co Coach days. This is the old Coach Road, and we’ll follow it along the base of the Yambla Range for 10-15 kms today. We’ve ridden this a few times. They’ve re-chipped one section and that rides rough and slow. But the views are pleasant, and there is some sunshine on occasion. It is just nice to be out on the bike.
I really miss long rides. I miss not being able to just hop on the bike and not worry about how far I’m going to go. I hate having to plan things out and not being able to push myself. I hate how a 60 km ride feels like a 60 mile ride, and I have had to abandon my riding goals for the year.
But I’m really grateful not to be bedridden. And I’m grateful I can still scrape through 28 hours of work a week – which is enough to survive on and save $1000 or so a month with. It could be much worse. Unlike an injury, where they can give you a definite timeline of inactivity, and guidelines on what to do to get back to full strength, there’s no such thing with this. It is the uncertainty of duration and the lack of anything definite in terms of how much recovery can be expected that is the hardest to endure.
We turn towards Walla Walla on the Benambra Road. We’ve not ridden this bit before. It heads across flat paddocks, crosses the railway and then the highway, and then becomes a wide and smooth chipseal road which leads to a large gravel quarry. Once past the quarry, the road becomes a 1.5 lane gravel and dirt laneway that is rough enough in places to require riding on the opposite side of the road for a hundred metres or so at a time to find the smoothest line. We then turn down a single-lane dry-weather only lane that climbs gentle hills and then deposits us on the back road out of Walla.
We’ve ridden the Walla Walla- Glen Ellen Road hundreds of times – but not since about March 2017. I know all the dents, bumps, and other malignancies of this road. It’s been re-chipped since I last rode it, but that has not improved its ride. It’s just a rougher bumpiness than before. But it’s all familiar and I know exactly how long it will take me to get back to Nigel’s place.
As usual, the traffic picks up a bit and the drivers aren’t all that polite. I have to ride a third of the way into the road for them to overtake in a manner that follows the 1.5 metre law. Even though I don’t like the town where I live now, I must say that it is nice to have lower traffic roads for my after-work rides. I don’t miss living in a satellite suburb of a combined city of 120,000 people.
Nigel gives my car the all-clear, and I give Nigel a haircut before I leave. He gives me a tour of some luxury Ford car from 1982 that he recently purchased. I’m no car gal, so much of its wonderfulness is lost on me, but it is clear that Nigel is very happy with it and very excited about it. That’s good – not too many things make him happy these days. Then it’s just the 45-minute drive home.
It’s been a good ride. I am very pleased to have done some sort of overnight ride – even if it is a ride I would normally do as a day-ride. We have passed through the depths of winter, and the first signs of spring are already around. The wattles are blooming, the jonquil flowers are fully flushed out. The magpies have started here and there. Soon we will be back to more comfortable temperatures for camping.
Of course, I have many routes ready for some short, loaded, two-day rides. I may not be able to do anything close to normal, but I will be riding. And I will be camping. Because I must.
Keep fingers and toes crossed that I can keep maintaining some level of activity and will, at some point, get beyond the relapses and only being able to live at 40 percent of normal capacity. Some people do recover after a couple of years – I’m determined to be part of that 5-10 percent.