25 August 2018
Total Kilometres: 58 kms (36 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 3326 kms (2067 miles)
Today is the first day that really feels like spring. It’s something in the way the angle of the sun finally meets the warmth of the air and the waft of floral pollen on the wind. The start of spring is late this year. Temperatures have been a couple of degrees below average most of the month. There’s been no real temptation to go camping in early August like there is in many years. But here we are, end of August, not many kilometres on the odometer and not many days left this month to add to the total. So let’s go!
I drive over to Balldale to cut out 40 kms of riding had we left from home. I don’t have that capacity at the moment. Normally, I wouldn’t even blink at the idea of a 100km ride. But I am a long, long way from being able to do that. I’m still trying to recover from the two really terrible weeks in July. So we drive over to the teeny tiny little place where I’ve never seen a soul.
I leave the car along the park that parallels the railway line. This is the third time I’ve been in Balldale and I have never seen human life. Like the last time I came through, I do hear someone mowing a lawn and I see one car driving along, but otherwise Balldale is dead. Very dead. There is a school here, a recreation ground and a post office. There’s a few blocks of old homes. The grain silos on the abandoned rail – line are still used… but it’s not harvest season, so there’s no activity there either. The long-closed pub is in even more disrepair than last time – the sign has fallen off the roof and then been propped up, broken, on the ground against the verandah. Entropy has enveloped this little place.
I pull the bike out of the car, slide on the rear pannier and the handlebar bag, and then the guys and I are off. Even when I feel really crap, a gentle ride still feels good. The sun feels nice against my skin. There are still no flies. I don’t get swooped by any magpies all day. There is a light breeze, but it’s a tailwind on the way out. There aren’t many cars about. It’s such a good day for a ride – I wish I could go for 7 hours instead of 3.
We climb a gentle hill to start and then roll down to the edge of Oil Tree Lagoon. It’s a big ephemeral water body that has no hint of moisture today. We can peer through all of the red gum regrowth along the edges to open, grassy expanses on the lagoon bed.
We turn onto the Hopefield Road and round the edge of the lagoon. This is more of a main road, but I only see two cars on my way out. From a satellite view you can see what a swampy place this can be when wet, but today it’s just dry, light green paddocks with depressions, and trees retained in places too wet to crop.
The crops that are in are struggling. We are officially in drought. Just. Victoria, just 20kms south of here, is not drought-declared. Areas further north are much, much worse-off. We’ve had less than half of our normal average for the year, but it doesn’t feel dire here. It just feels very dry, and the green of the roadside grass reflects a paleness you would usually see at the beginning of winter instead of the end. Things should be lush and bright green at this time of year – it’s a colour that normally only lasts about 2.5 months. But we just won’t get that this year.
We ride along the flat land – lots of bare paddocks and various grains. The canola looks patchy. It may be early in the flowering, and it may fill in to produce a luxurious, fluffy and full appearance as usual. However, a closer inspection does show withered plants scattered amongst the flowering ones. Yield doesn’t look like it will be stellar this year.
But I don’t know much about canola farming. I do know my lungs don’t like the pollen. And this is the time of year I try to hold my breath while riding for hundreds of metres at a time. It’s a losing battle though, the landscape is a sea of yellow and green.
I turn off of the Hopefield Road to pick up a new road – Kooringal Road. This is the shire boundary. To the left is Federation Council. To the right is Greater Hume Shire. They both have pretty shitty roads – so there’s no advantage to riding in one or the other. Federation Council (formerly Corowa Shire Council) looks after this boundary road.
We head up the single lane road, crossing and re-crossing Goombargana Creek. The creek has pretty shallow banks and is totally dry today. There are many she-oaks, native pines and box trees in the road reserve, and it’s very pleasant for the first four or five kilometres.
Beyond the road reserve trees, the paddocks spread out to forever. It’s very flat, big sky country out here. We can look over to the Coreen hills and the lumpy, sandy hills of Lonesome Pine State Forest where we camped earlier in the year. Off to the northeast is Goombargana Hill – an island of vegetation and biodiversity above the agricultural tide lapping at its feet.
The seal on the road is old, and the condition deteriorates. Eventually we are down to an ancient chipseal that is a pale white quartz-like surface. Oh, is it ever rough! From Google maps, I thought this bit was unsealed – it looked like brown dirt or gravel on the satellite view. But, oh no, that is rock, and it is incredibly rough. I aim for the black bits which are smoother, but in some places there is nowhere to avoid the roughness. On some roads like this, I just ride on the dirt verge. But not out here. That is soft, sandy stuff over there. So the guys and I vibrate on up the road, hoping and wishing that it would turn to gravel.
No such luck. It’s about 10 kms of teeth-clattering, butt-destroying vibration and chunkiness. But it is a beautiful day. And the wind is not an issue. And there are no flies. And we have plenty of time to get back to the car – it doesn’t get dark til 6pm now. And the temperature is just perfect for riding (about 15C). And the… yeah, no real complaints beyond that wicked surface.
I pass Sharp’s Lane. I would stop for a photo, but the only vehicle I see in 1.5 hours passes me at the corner and I don’t want to wait for the dust he raises to settle. Is that dust from gravel on my road? Do I get a reprieve? No. That’s dust on the side road. On we vibrate on our rough road through the open fields and enormous sky.
Eventually we get up to the Daysdale-Walbundrie Road. It’s gravel and a welcome relief from the chunky chip-seal. Now we just have to find the tire line and avoid the bigger pieces of rock. More big sky. More canola. More grains. The views are long. It’s good to be out on the bike.
I’m thinking about how deconditioned I’ve become. And how there is not a damn thing I can do about it. This illness came about like an earthquake and tsunami. The original mozzie infection was a gentle earthquake – where life is temporarily disrupted. You wander about a bit and think, “what the heck was that?” Then you diagnose the issue. And get on with things. No one else seems too concerned either.
Not having experience with the disease, you feel the mounting symptoms… the sea in retreat… but you don’t put it all together. You don’t recognize the impending danger. So when the sea comes back in as a tsunami, you are crushed by the wall of disease and everything in your life you took for granted is wiped away.
You are tumbled about and pulled out into a vast and turbulent sea – a million medical appointments, tests, studies and puzzled doctors. Dozens of trips to the pathologist disrupt any attempt at coming up for air. Hospitals, medical clinics and waiting rooms are a foreign, jumbled sea to the normally healthy.
Finally, you find yourself treading water a million miles away from the life you used to know. You just try to keep your head above water on the good days, and then try to hold your breath long enough to survive the times when the relapses suck you under. There’s no hope of swimming to shore. It’s too far; you can’t even see recovery from here. And so you tread water, you float, and you hope for some piece of flotsam to come your way that offers some relief. So far from shore.
We feel far away from life out here on the back roads, too. I see a cluster of seven cars in about five minutes as we turn back toward Goombargana Hill – everyone left home at the same time? The cars didn’t seem to be a group, and they weren’t all going the same way. But other than that cluster of combustion, and a random car or two back on the main road, we don’t see many humans today. We don’t see much livestock either. We’re just out there among the crops pedaling -not too slowly but not at a cracking pace either. Just riding. Just pedaling. Because this is who I am. And this is what I do. Now how to get my body back to any sort of an agreement that this is what we are meant to do?
The sun is scooting downward and the shadows are growing a bit longer. We’re a month out from the equinox. The sun angles down on my back as we turn toward the car. I love the transition of seasons, even if they are muted here. I love knowing where the sun is and when and where it will set. I love knowing what any season should ‘feel’ like and building my sense of place. I love knowing the landscape and knowing what the start of any road looks like on the other end. I just love being outside and being on my bike…. Of course I say that when the temperature is perfect and there are no flies clinging to my face 🙂
We’ve only done 58 flat kms with little wind today, but that is more than enough. My muscles are twitchy and achy. I hate that I am so unfit. But I cannot think that way. I have to figure out a way to think in energy envelopes. I have to figure out the pacing better. I have to start from where I am and not try to get back to where I was. I am far out at sea and I need to be looking for flotsam instead of the shore.