Plan B – November Ride 1 – So, this is Plan C

3 and 4 November

Total Kilometres: 48 kms (30 miles)

Total Kilometres 2018: 3643 kms (2264 miles)

It’s a change in the wind. It’s the angle of the sun. It’s a smell. It’s the way the cloud moves over a stand of trees. It’s these things, sometimes together, sometimes on their own. It’s other things. But it’s always some flash of familiarity or a momentary stutter of sight, smell and/or sound.

Something makes a neuronal connection and a flash of the present brings forth a memory from the past. All of a sudden I’m in Nebraska in May pedaling against a strong quartering headwind with storm clouds receding. Or I’m camped next to a lake in Montana as thick smoke descends with the setting sun. Or I’m on the open road high on the plain dropping down to the state border with South Dakota, and I’m sure that all of life is right there in that moment and I am not meant to be anywhere else doing anything else.

2013 – on the High Plains about to drop down to the border with South Dakota. Life was goooood.

Often one emergent memory leads to others, and it’s a pleasant time reminiscing about some of the best times of my life… until I’m called back to the here and now. More than ever, in these times of torpor, I am so glad I took time out of life to go on long tours in 2010, 2013 and 2014. Society likes to make you feel like a loser for diverging from the socially defined course of university-work-marriage-kids-work-house-work-more kids-work and so forth. But who cares?

Those memories sustain me now when anything of such physical demand is so, so far beyond my body’s abilities. What memories would I have if I’d stayed stuck behind a desk? I would rather have those cycling memories whispering on the wind now than to have wasted those touring times on a career path.

What would sustain me now when my mitochondria can’t even cope with the task of converting ATP to ADP and back again, if I did not have memories of riding 130 miles in a single day, fully-loaded, with no wind assistance and a net elevation gain at altitude?  Life can change in an instant. Life can change with one insect bite. I will never ever regret having gone for those tours when life draws to a close.

2014 – Wyoming – 110 miles down – 20 miles to go. We’re heading for Casper which sits just below that anticline. Our daily distance record was set this day.

So today we are going for a ride. Today we are going to go make some more memories. Not grand ones, indeed, but some memories nonetheless. There will be no big rides for the foreseeable future, but my body says we can do SOMETHING today, so I pack up two panniers with the basics (i.e. tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, sleep sheet, sleeping clothes, jacket, torch, toiletries, camera, phone, wallet, handful of nuts, 4 protein balls, 2 tins of salmon, 3 litres of water, stuffed companions and their floaties). Then, at about 3.30pm we head out to sail east with the wind for a bit.

We won’t ride any new roads today. We don’t even know where we might stop. I’m not above camping at a scenic spot in a road reserve. The idea is to just go slow, keep the elevation gain pretty nil and don’t go more than 30kms.

This plan leads us over the river and down the rail trail to Rutherglen. There’s a considerable amount of traffic on the road because of the long weekend for the Victorians (only in Oz do some states get a public holiday for the ‘grand final’ of football and a horse race). So the rail trail is a relief from the traffic, and it appears that all of the menacing magpies on this route have finished for the year. The flies are a nuisance today, but the wind is strong enough to blow them away for the most part.

Out of Rutherglen we head down the road to Chiltern. We turn off on the Great Southern Road (you can take this all the way to Springhurst if you are so inclined). It’s soft and sandy with big rocks strewn about. It’s also got some corrugations, as soft and sandy roads tend to feature. But we’re good. We just spin along and let that crosswind whip away the flies.

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The grains have gone golden – Great Southern Road.
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We’re at less than half of our normal rainfall for the year – note how dry the foreground grass is compared to the golden grains.

We ride through the overarching trees and gaze at the grains turning golden. There is high cloud about, but the rain isn’t expected until Monday. Today is only about 25 degrees C, so all-in-all, it’s a day when you just can’t say no to riding and spending the night in the tent.

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Great Southern Road. (That was the name of one of the gold mines here).
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That’s canola. It finished flowering 2-3 weeks ago. Way in the background – those hills are the Barambogies.

I turn down Research Station Lane. I know from a previous ride that there is a bush reserve along here. We could camp there. Or we could keep on to Mantelli and take that up to the Grand Junction bush reserve. Or from there we could just keep on and camp in the national park.

However, once we get to the reserve near the ag research station, I note that the gate is locked. Perfect!!! I know the gate at Grand Junction is not locked, so there is a slim chance of bogan campers. And it’s a weekend, and the motorbike riders like the national park on the weekend. If we camp here, we’ll have it all to ourselves and there won’t be any bogan camper or motorbike rider noise. Sold.

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Nothing on there about “No camping”. I won’t leave any trace anyway.

And how far have we come? A whopping 21 kilometres. But yet, it’s probably far enough. I’m definitely not looking to regress any symptoms with overexertion. I’m on a pretty good roll right now with recovery and I’d like to keep it rolling.

So I pull the panniers off the bike, push them through the holes in the gate, and then lift the bike up and over. I crawl over, re-attach the panniers and then walk the bike down a vague path. There’s potentially thorns, and I’m hoping that by keeping my weight off the bike that there will be fewer chances of puncture.

The reserve is to ‘protect the natural heritage’ – but ‘protect’ is probably the wrong word. “Regenerate” is more apt. There is nothing pristine about the place, and the protection is just giving the land a chance to breathe again after its European annihilation.

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I didn’t see any other wildflowers currently in flower in the reserve, but I didn’t look tremendously close.

But it’s pleasant and quiet. And lo and behold, there is a dam with some water in it. There’s also a mob of kangaroos hanging out by the water’s edge, but they bound away in unison before I get the chance to pull out the camera. Still, floatie sessions for the guys and their friends are in order.

First I go find a nice open spot away from the dam, so I don’t disturb the animals coming down for a drink in the night. I lean the bike against a tree and grab the protein balls and all the floatie personnel and equipment. We’ve got some friends along on this trip that normally live at Nigel’s place. I then let them sail back and forth at the end of the tether while I munch on the protein balls and inhale the quiet. It has been waaaay too long since I last slept in the tent.

As dusk falls and the birds flit about in the trees, I set up the tent. I leave the fly off until I’m ready for sleep. I think about leaving it off – there shouldn’t be any dew tonight, but the low is supposed to be 3 degrees and I think I might get cold. So I do get out at 8.30, pee, then put on the fly.

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Home for the night. No lichens or other plants were harmed in the set up of the tent.
We’ve got a big crew on this trip – Wilbur, Cranky, Verne, Statler and Kermit. Luckily, they are pretty quiet and non-demanding. Well, except for Verne…..

It is quiet. So still. So peaceful. So alone. Oh, I need more of this. I’m asleep quickly which is a notable thing in the past 15 months. More remarkably, I only wake for a moment here or there when I need to roll over, shift a hip, or put my head back on my riding clothes (i.e. pillow). In those moments of wakefulness, I commit to memory the absolute silence and stillness. And then I sleep more. My quality of sleep has been improving slowly over the past few months – my cortisol levels must be dropping. I haven’t woken with a night sweat since early August. It is a sad thing to get so excited about such low milestones when just over four years ago we were riding that day of 209 kilometres and sleeping the sleep of the exhausted instead of the metabolically fatigued. Back then, I would never have guessed that I would lose more than 15 months of my life to a mosquito. What a twisty path life leads us down.

The dawn chorus is early. It is not yet dawn. And it’s not really a chorus. First, it’s a pair of kookaburras laughing maniacally at the coming of the sun. Then it’s quiet again. I don’t fully wake. A bit later, but still in the pre-dawn, a couple of ravens settle down on nearby branches and emit long ‘ah-ah-aaaaaahhhhs’ that turn to a mournful note at the end. The leaves flutter, the weight lifts from the branch, they alight and then… settle back down on another nearby branch and repeat.

They fly off and their depressed greeting of the day is replaced by currawongs, rosellas and other smaller birds I don’t know. It’s not a chorus, and there is no coordinated crescendo, but the noise rises with the sun. But I don’t mind a bit. As long as it’s not galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos or corellas, I’m all good. I really dislike the parrot family hanging around a campsite, but I don’t mind the rest.

As the birds start in, so does the sound of a tractor in the far distance. So I decide I might as well get up. It’s only 6.20, but by the time I’m packed and gone, it will be 7am. I want to be home by around 10am, before the heat fires up and the wind increases and swaps to the west. It’s a 5-10kph easterly at the moment which is in my favour. The predicted 15-25kph westerly will not be.

So I pack up, climb back over the gate and head on down Research Lane.

The videos below are some experiments. I’m playing around with a few different editing programs now that Moviemaker has bit the dust. I’m slowly learning a new program, so expect some video montages in the future.

I’m taking a bit of a roundabout way home so I can at least pick up two new roads. A few kms down the road, I see the noisy tractor. He’s making hay while the sun shines. Literally. We’re predicted to get a decent amount of rain Monday into Tuesday, so now is the time to get in there. I’ll see another two tractors working fields on my way back into Rutherglen.

My tires crunch through the soft and sandy gravel. My body feels fine. The air temperature is delightfully cool. It was only 3.8C when I got up this morning. Ahhh… the last vestiges of spring. We had our first day of 38C last week after an overnight low of 26C – so summer is waiting in the wings. Those mornings are never crisp and the air never feels pointed as it does today. Summer mornings are warm and flat, all the fizz and freshness long gone. So I savour this while it lasts.

It is most definitely the hay-baling time of year.

Burgoynes Road is a new one for me. But it’s all very big and loose gravel scattered across the whole road. Any longer than a km on this one would be torture. I mostly ride over on the very edge where the grader plowed into the grass. I see more tractors out baling hay. I still don’t know why some go for round bales and some go for rectangles. Mystery remains.

I stop in Rutherglen to get some photos of art sculptures for the November challenge on Cycle365. I ride around Lake King (very, very low) and cruise through the caravan park. It’s completely packed out with caravans for the long weekend. How anyone calls that ‘camping’ is beyond me!

Kermit was impressed with this sign on the Lake King nature walk.
Thankfully, Verne was not left out.
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The King Lake Lounge. Note the wombat in the hole and Statler sitting up top. The nearest caravan park patron was giving me the evil eye – as if I was going to actually use a public bench that was near his site. Sheesh!
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There is no vacancy in the powered sites. There is less than 6 feet between a lot of the vans – they are really packed in there. No thanks!

The guys beg for a float, but the wind is now a north-northeasterly and gaining strength. I’m ready to get home. There’s no new roads to explore, and I am not keen to ride routine roads into a strengthening headwind. So we head home down the rail trail and make it home by 9.30am.

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Our bike next to a piece of art featuring an engine frame and a couple bikes.
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Art at the beginning of the rail trail – Tony may have taken a photo of this on his recent trip north. Water bird and fish since we are near the river, a wine bottle on the left (one of the oldest wine regions in the state) and mining equipment on the right (we’re in an old gold-mining town).
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Grain silos on the right (still in use) and the old rail platform on the left.
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The old Vidal cellars from 1896 – adjoining the rail trail. In the early 1890s, members of the Rutherglen Vinegrowers’ Association formed a wine company called the Rutherglen Wine and Brandy Company to protect the reputation of the Rutherglen area. Many small growers were producing inferior product at the time, so the company decided they would purchase it to prevent it from hitting the market and turn it into brandy. In 1899, 2,000 gallons of brandy were sold in Melbourne. By 1920 the company was looking at winding up, and it was sold in 1926 to Mr. A.J. Vidal of New Zealand. Mr. Vidal proposed to establish a vineyard and distillery in the district, and purchased the building as a cellar. The building is often referred to as Vidal’s Cellars. In 1947, the buildings were converted again to be used for the manufacture of bicycle saddles. It was sold in 1955 and has since been abandoned. It was purchased by the adjoining winery in 2012.
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See the naked sheep – they are VERY freshly shorn.

Our total kms: 48. Normally, we would easily do double that one-way in hills. But the doctor gave me 12-18 months of more healing time, and I’m determined to use that time healing and not pushing myself too much and regressing. I’ve wasted 9 months already doing that. I’m so far from normal, it’s not even worth trying to get back there at the moment. Just one day at a time. Dampen the inflammation. Heal the gut. Feed the good bacteria. Let the immune system rest and reset.

Hilariously enough, I called this year’s journal “Plan B”. Plan A had been to reestablish a life in America so I could be closer to my parents when they start to need help. That plan failed miserably. So I came back to Oz and decided to embark on Plan B – go back to riding in the mountains and tackling harder and harder rides. But that plan failed miserably, too, after I pushed my virus-ridden body off the metaphorical cliff last December.

So I guess we’re now to Plan C. Welcome to Plan C.

Now how many letters of the alphabet do I have left if this one doesn’t work either?

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