24 and 25 November
Total Kilometres: 53 kms (33 miles)
Total Kilometres 2018: 3791 kms (2356 miles)
The low pressure system wound up. It curled into a tight ball with lengthening rain bands and spun its way across the state. On Wednesday the rain came from the north in long north-south bands. On Thursday the temperature plummeted from a high of 15C at midnight to 9C by mid-day. They got 5-6 inches of snow in the mountains. We got band after band of heavy rain that fell in torrential sheets interspersed with moments of sun. The wind strengthened. The rain bands came from the west. On Friday, the rain and wind came from the west southwest. On Saturday, low, scuddy clouds intermixed with the sun, and the wind stayed strong but moved to the southwest. Jumpers (i.e. jacket or sweatshirt) were required. It was our last taste of winter and it was definitely a blustery blast that felt like late July instead of late November.
Corresponding with the last blast of winter, my screwed-up immune system decided that it would take a lackadaisical approach to fighting off the cold that had felled many people at work in the previous three weeks. Most people missed two days of work and said they felt horrendous for a couple days but then recovered quickly. My body, on the other hand, decided that five days of a moderate-to-strong headache and a moderate sore throat and a healthy dose of fatigue on top of my normal fatigue was a more torturous and less efficient way to send in the troops.
This all meant that my weekend plans were scuttled. Like so many plans in the past 9 months, I rejigged. Saturday was meant to be a day ride through the national park doing a rubbish run for Thanksgiving weekend. Then Sunday and Monday were to be an extension of that ride on new tracks in the national park. But I laid around Saturday and slept a whole bunch. I accomplished very little. The Thanksgiving ride would have to be postponed. 20-30kph winds gusting to 35kph did not make me miss being out on a loaded bike.
Sunday seemed better. That big low was still sending us strong winds that were shifting to the south, but it was now only 15-20kph with gusts to 30kph. We can ride in that – especially since it would very rarely be a headwind and would mostly be a crosswind. So the guys and I packed the bike and headed out with no real plan. The other route had been scuttled, so the only idea was to go check out the Grand Junction Bush Reserve. We’ve ridden by it before, but never wandered around. After that, who knows?
So we head out around 3.30pm. Yes, it is still quite windy and there are rain showers as close as Beechworth, but it’s warm, so it should all be fine. The sky is gorgeous with moving clumps of clouds sailing across a deep blue sky. We enjoy the ever-changing sky show as we head down the rail trail to Rutherglen.
I decide I’ll take the main Chiltern-Rutherglen Road just to avoid as much headwind as possible. I have lost all of my fitness and muscle mass, so riding the loaded bike (even though it is a very light load) with the wind is more energy than my ME/CFS body courting a cold should probably exert.
The main road has at least a car per minute from one direction or the other, but I never get squeezed. There are long sight lines of more than a kilometer for most of the road. For once, 100 percent of drivers give me ample room.
I turn off onto Chiltern Valley Road to approach the bush reserve from the south. There are a couple gentle hills to climb that give fantastic views over fields of grain to low hills across the shallow valleys. The clouds throw shade in changing patterns as they dance across the sky in front of the sun. The dome of blue scattered with puffy clouds feels both grand and close this afternoon. It really is a visual treat. Being later in the afternoon, the lower sun angle makes the golden grains glow below that big dome. It feels like being in a big snow globe – without the glittery cascade of flakes.
We turn off on Durhams Road. We’ve ridden it before. They’ve ‘plowed’ it since then – i.e. run a grader along it to churn up the rocks and grass but not ‘formed’ any of it. So it’s a bit like riding across soft dirt mixed with big chunks of rock. We work our way down to Mantelli Road.
We stop at the bush reserve. I unload the bike and toss the panniers over the gate. I then pick up the bike and lift it over the fence – a bit of a challenge because there is barbed wire to dodge. We go for a walk through the small reserve past a long mound of clumped rocks and dirt. This is one of the mullock heaps left from a large gold mine that operated here in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The guys and I go over and check out a shallow dam that is empty. No floaties today. The shallow dam is backed by another 15-foot-tall heap of dirt. I wander around and have a look at things. I look for rubbish to collect, but there’s none. Well, there are old bricks and pieces of metal here and there, but I suppose those are historical pieces at this point. I don’t know when grotty human practices turn from rubbish to pieces of historical interest to archeological wonders of the past… but lugging bricks and metal around is a bit impractical anyway. I let history be. Instead, I pick up a heap of grass seeds that spear me through my socks as I wander about through the grass.
I could camp here. It’s after 5pm. There’s plenty of flat ground and a bit of shade. But it’s not all that appealing and I did notice a farmer ute come speeding along a distant road and then pull to a stop next to a shipping container on the adjacent property owner’s land. I know he is just standing over there watching me and seeing what I’m up to. Fair enough. If I were an arsonist, I could torch an entire season of crops on this very windy and dry day, if I were to start a fire. But, still, it seems silly. I know he knows that I rocked up on a push-bike in a high-vis shirt and helmet – hardly the profile of someone wanting to do dastardly deeds.
Still, I figure we can head up into the national park and have a much more pleasant night anyway. Plus, it would be nice to get out of that breezy… no, don’t fool yourself… that windy flow of air. So I push the bike back to the gate, repeat the unload and reload process and then sit down and pull all the seeds out of my socks and shoes and bike tires so that I don’t spread them into the national park.
We then head down Vineview Road (not a new one) with the idea of taking it to Cornishtown Road and then a laneway that leads into the park. Vineview is corrugated and bumpy. Ugh. But the wind is behind us. Which means the flies cluster about my face. Ugh.
But the sky is gorgeous and the contrast of colours and shapes is a joy. We work our way to Mtn View Track, but the locals have removed the sign and the homeowner is using the laneway as his driveway. I know the laneway goes on and into the park because I’ve seen the other side. But this bit of track is steep and goes very close to that house. I don’t want to have to talk to the guy. It’s a very nice and big property with a new house and multiple, big, new sheds. Those people are suspicious of people like me. If it were a house of modest means I might go for it. If I were going downhill and could just zoom past, I’d go for it, too. But, riding around to another entrance will only take me about 10 minutes and will be a gentler climb anyway. And so we go. Down another corrugated stretch of road.
We head into the national park. It’s after 6pm now and I think my body is done. The wind, my head cold and my fatigue are saying 29 kms is enough. So I ride up to Callitris Track. I remember there being some pleasant spots along this one I thought would be nice for camping when I rode it last year. In my mind, there were some oddly- located she-oaks among the callitris and ironwood trees, too. But I don’t make it that far up the hill to confirm that memory. I see a decent spot about 350 metres up the track and I’m finished.
I set the tent up minus fly. I won’t need it tonight. I crawl in. My guts have been testy all day today and they aren’t overly happy now. I think I just need to eat, but I’ve got no appetite. This restricted diet is hard enough at home – finding things I can take with me on rides is very hard and I’ve had to compromise a little. I manage to eat a banana, some brown rice crackers and a tin of salmon. But I still don’t feel great. I drink a bunch of water. I wet wipe myself down and crawl into my sleeping clothes.
I lay down. Ahhhh….. that feels good. If you knew me before this illness, you would never believe what capacity I have for laying supine for long periods these days. I watch the trees through the top of the tent. Their long, rhythmic swaying with the wind looks like concert-goers swaying to a ballad in the midst of a performance. I listen to the whir of the wind through all those little leaves. I watch the blue come and go behind the swaying dancers. I wonder about the clouds and why they are moving so slow aloft when it is so windy down here.
The wind slowly dies down as the day lies down. Sun set is 7.14 or so; last light around 7.45. I watch the sun go and the long branches stem their sway. I listen to a kookaburra far in the distance. I hear the freeway over the hill. The stars start to pop out. Mars or Jupiter is just right overhead. I see a satellite. And then I see the back of my eyelids. It can’t be more than 8.30pm.
I wake around 10.30 or so. The ¾ moon is slowly rising – it’s like a low lamp burning kersosene far away. I get out to pee. I see a long shooting star. I revel in the night sky of Oz – surely the best show you could ever get in an area this populated. America has superior mountains; Australia has a superior night sky.
I crawl back in the tent. I lay there for a bit. Tired but wired. It is a familiar feeling. But I do get back to sleep after a bit. I wake up some time later in a jolt. The moon is up and is like car headlights shining on the tent. After I’d set up my tent earlier in the evening, I texted two of my friends on my safety list. “Safe in nat park near Chiltern. Callitris Track.” One had texted back: “Rapist on loose in NE VIC. Go stay in the motel tonight.” Well, the convicted rapist was last seen in the Strathbogies, and I’m very close to town and residences here, 2 hours away from the ‘Bogies. Plus, I can see or hear any vehicle coming. He was last seen on a motorbike. You can REALLY hear those coming. So I went to bed without a worry. But car headlight-type lights on the tent do give me a start in my half-wakening, until I realise it’s the moon.
I wake for a moment a bit later (remember I sleep on a ¼-1/2 inch closed cell foam pad directly on the ground, so sometimes I wake when I need to shift a hip). The moon has almost made a complete arc over the northwestern sky – it’s light now is like someone shining a torch on my head. I estimate it’s got to be about 3am, but I don’t bother to check.
I shift my hip and sleep until the birds begin in the pre-dawn. I then sleep until 6.45am. The trees above only catch sunlight in their tops which remain still. The wind is calm. I lie there and drift in and out of sleep to the morning bird chorus (no screechy birds here) until 7.45am.
I’m in no rush, but once I have to get up and pee, you know, it’s best to just get on with the day. And so we do. We pack up and head down the hill and on out of the park. My muscles don’t hurt. I don’t feel too terrible. The head cold is not so bad. It’s going to be a gorgeous day. I could wander about and pick up some new roads on the way home.
But I don’t. Be proud. I have finally learnt to pace myself in a manner more likely to benefit recovery. So I just ride slow and easy on the Cornishtown Road back toward Rutherglen. I look for rubbish, but I only see a couple things, and they are all too large (e.g. part of a car bumper) to attach to the bike.
The wind is still light. The flies aren’t too obnoxious yet. I’m thankful I can still do at least this much activity and still get out for nights in the tent. I need it like I need air to breathe. It’s a gorgeous day – now fingers crossed I’ve not pushed myself too much. I never know until about 48 hours later if I’ve gone overboard. But given the weather and my lazy, hateful immune system, I’m happy with what we’ve done with this weekend.
The Thanksgiving ride will have to wait. Next weekend I am heading to Cobram to pick up the miracle medicine that has done such amazing things for my guts. The nearest supplier is over there, an hour away. I’m taking the bike to do some day rides and then staying in a motel to spoil myself. The motel has a pool, and the town is on the river, so the guys are very excited. Multiple floatie opportunities. And now it’s just time to cook up food for the work week ahead. Routine is routine, but it is my friend at the moment, as we continue the glacial progress of recovery.