23, 25, 26 December
Total kilometres: 115 kms (72 miles)
Total kilometres 2018: 4006 kms (2489 miles)
We’ve whipped around the sun again. The year is coming to a close. In some ways, the year has dragged so slowly. In other ways, it’s hard to believe that another 12 months have passed. Sliding into the holiday season, I see one final opportunity for an overnight ride before the heat sets in. I rarely do overnight or weekend rides in January. It is just too damn hot. But the 22nd and 23rd of December only have highs of 30C – hotter than I like but perfectly rideable. The weather really heats up and the forecast gets ridiculous the following week.
But then I go out on Saturday and the traffic reminds me that patience at this time of year is very low, and no one is looking out for other road users. The focus is all on Christmas consumption. So I just do a short ride on Saturday instead. I then plan for a ride in the national park on Sunday – off the main roads mostly and a chance to go on my overdue Thanksgiving ride.
Thanksgiving Ride – 23 December – 35 kms
Today is meant to be a Thanksgiving ride – a way to give thanks for my good fortunes and give back to the community. Work and weather prevented me from undertaking this ride near America’s Thanksgiving holiday, so my plan is to make up for it today.
When I returned to Australia in September last year, I decided that I should finally find some community work. I no longer had responsibilities to Nigel whose unpredictability and tendency to lurch from crisis to crisis had taken up most of my time previously. I thought I might volunteer with the Friends group in the national park where I ride a lot. But then I got sick in December. Really, really sick. I could barely make it out of bed many days until about August, so helping others took a back set to trying desperately to help myself just survive each day.
Then, in October, I received news that one of the other students who completed a PhD at the same time as me had passed away. Janet sat in the cubicle next to me – she was working on fire regimes in particular forest ecosystems. Whenever she discussed her project, or I heard her take a phone call, I was so glad I was pursuing my topic instead of hers! But that is the way everyone feels about everyone else’s topic, so it goes. However, Janet had the most brilliant laugh and I always had a lot of respect for how she conquered the challenges in her PhD work, as well as those in her own life. She was as resilient as the ecosystems she studied. I generally don’t hang out with coworkers outside of work and I didn’t keep in contact with her after the PhD, so I didn’t know her as deeply as some. Still, news of her death was unexpected and sad.
I went to a luncheon held by her PhD supervisor and his partner (who was also working on a PhD at the same time) in her memory. It was nice to see former colleagues I hadn’t seen in six years and to hear their memories of Janet. At this luncheon, I also heard some stories from people there about how the Friends group I had thought about joining was a bit intense and a bit on the plant nazi side of things.
Oooh… so maybe I don’t want to volunteer with them! However, Janet’s PhD supervisor, who also rides in the park a lot, suggested that maybe I could pick up rubbish when I ride. It’s a way to give back and since rubbish promotes rubbish, its removal should prevent some further deposits.
So I decided I would dedicate a rubbish ride to Janet around Thanksgiving – reflecting on her life and all the other friends that I have lost to illness, suicide and accidents long before they should have gone.
So today’s the day. I will tell you right now: I did not find any rubbish!! But as I rode, I did think about all of the people who have contributed to my life. And I’ve decided I’ll just take an extra pannier on every ride I do in the park and have a Thanksgiving ride each time.
I head down to Chiltern around 9am and park in my usual space near the toilets. There’s a bit of wind as I head out of town toward the freeway and onto the Black Dog Creek Road. Even with the breeze, the air seems to hang a bit heavy, as if the weight of summer is starting to bear down now that we are close to the end of December.
There’s a bit of traffic on the Beechworth-Chiltern Road, but I see none on any of the smaller roads and tracks I ride. Aaaaahhh…. To get away from the masses.
I pedal slowly, gently. I spin away up the gentle and imperceptible tilt toward the granite Pilot Range. We had a huge tropical dump of rain a bit over a week ago that caused flash floods and even stranded 100 cars and trucks on the main Sydney-Melbourne freeway. There’s not too much evidence of all that rain – the landscape still looks parched. The only indication is that all of the small farm dams have been nicely topped up.
I am picking up a couple new roads and tracks today. Again, I’ve ridden most of the interior roads in this section of the park, so I’m riding a boundary track today.
The track is clear, wide and easy to ride. It ducks away from the boundary at times and climbs a gentle rise between drainages. There are views back to where we came from before we descend again.
The track then climbs along beside a drainage – it would be neat to be here for the few moments on occasion when water flows through it. Still, I enjoy the gentle climbing as I look over to the dents and humps in the landscape. There is a mix of open forest and sections with regrowth. There are views over to the aesthetically-pleasing but low biodiversity paddocks where scattered gums clump and low grasses give a park-like feel.
Eventually we meet up with the Yeddonba Road. There’s a really nice spot where the walls of Mt Pilot loom high above the road which looks like a tiny piece of string among tall trees reaching toward the top of the granite range. The photo doesn’t capture the depth or perspective.
But part of that is summer. We have just passed the solstice and that sun is high in the sky. Everything down here looks pale and bleached in the mid-morning sun. It’s a flatly-coloured landscape at this time of year, even when the landscape itself is far from flat.
We roll up and down the drainages that fall away from the mass of rock. The road is in a lot better condition than when I vibrated through a bazillion corrugations back in 2016. Down beneath Mt Pilot itself, tucked away in the rounded granite boulders, is a rock art site. I think that I will surely find some rubbish in the parking and picnic area for the walk to the site. But, nope. Not a scrap.
If you are ever in this area, the walk up through the boulders to the rock art site is very well done. I showed this to you on a ride in 2016. The ochre is very faded and the art very hard to see, but interpretive signage shows you what you should be looking for and that will help you pick it out. The amphitheatre of rocks feels inviting and spiritual. Highly recommended – but maybe moreso in another season when the temps aren’t sizzling. See more here: https://www.explorebeechworth.com.au/yeddonba/
I turn off on Toveys Road – a gentle decline through lifestyle properties and larger farms. This one is new to me. It’s corrugated in places but is overall acceptable. Except for my tires on the gravel, it is so silent. No birds, no cars, no people. Just silence. Aaahh.
And then there is a fun and fast-ish fling down a hill back to the main road. I’ve been really cautious all day about low points in the road where I expect, and have been encountering, lots of sand washed down the gravel in that big dump of rain a bit ago. But there is only so much braking you can do… before you just let it go, stand, flex legs and ride out whatever may come. We get up to 44kph and keep to the edge of the centre high point of the road as much as we can. 44kph on gravel on my touring bike is considerably vibrate-y. The guys look like they are riding out an earthquake… or having seizures. My arm flab is well and truly shaken by the time we roll out onto the flatter bits (which are nicely located to slow you up before you get to the t-intersection with the main road).
I then head down the main road for a little bit until I get to Martins Lane. I ride it simply because I haven’t ridden it before. We roll through the dry paddocks, down to a creek with a few pools of water left, and then back to the Black Dog Creek Road. Then it’s a 25 kph pedal back to town. We’ve done this road many times – I’ve not yet seen a koala in the trees, but I do keep looking!
Of course the guys got a gentle float on Lake Anderson in Chiltern while I rehydrated before the drive home.
Christmas Day Ride – 25 December – 56 kms
There are two days each year when the roads are mine alone: the afternoon of the AFL footy Grand Final and Christmas morning when everyone worships Santa. As usual, the Christmas forecast is hot and dry. So I set the alarm for 5am and hope I can make it out of bed by 5.30am. When the days and nights are so hot, and you don’t have air-conditioning, the hours between 4.30 and 7am offer the best chance for sleep. So to pry yourself out of bed in the only time of day that might be cool is difficult.
But I do it. This is a bit of a big thing for me. It is another sign that I am recovering. For much of the past year, my autonomic nervous system has not been in agreement with how life should be lived. This has led to all sorts of issues including very little slow-wave or REM sleep. This means you wake up feeling like death on the bad days and like you’ve been dragged around over rocks all night by your hair on the good days. There is no way I could pry myself out of bed at some hour like this even 3 months ago.
We’re on the road as the sun rises. That burning orb of fire and heat is going to scorch us this week: 36C yesterday, 39C today, 41 on Boxing Day, 43 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before finally dropping back to 37C on Sunday and 36C next Monday (before heading back to 38-40 late next week). So off we go before we hide indoors for the rest of the week.
I’m taking advantage of the lack of traffic by riding two roads I usually avoid because they are narrow, unsafe and/or have a lot of truck traffic. Today we ride in that golden low light of sunrise up the Riverina Highway. We head up about 18 kms and see not a single car.
We turn off on the Burraja Road – a single-lane paved road that would be fine to ride any time – but you have to ride normally busy roads to get here, so we’ve never ridden it before. The pub is a private residence these days. Not a creature is stirring… out the front, anyway. The moon hangs above, the heat hangs below. And the dogs out the back go nuts when I start off down the road.
I tail a kangaroo for awhile before it stops and doubles back. Then it is just quiet and stillness and peace. It is all that a holy day should be, but generally isn’t. I think about how un-Christian so many Christians act; about how they don’t follow the teachings of Jesus; the absolutely horrendous treatment of asylum seekers here and in America. Surely how we treat the displaced, downtrodden and most vulnerable is a reflection of ourselves and our spiritual beliefs. How can an atheist have more compassion and understanding of social complexity than someone who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus? Off the soapbox – those thoughts only consume a couple kms.
There is not much out here. It’s the land of flat and forever. Big skies, big fields, big walls of hay. Red dirt, brown dirt, but not at all loamy. It’s not that sandy, however, as it is in other places nearby. I just pedal and pedal – chasing my shadow to the west.
I pass by dirt roads that lead to large properties. Having just boxed up 9000 building records and entered every single property address or name into a register as I went, I’m getting to see some of the roads and properties for which I packed records. I don’t remember if any one building application was for a dwelling, alterations and additions, or what – but here I am now saying, “Oh yeah, I remember that name.” And, Hallelujah, that I can remember things again!
The funniest one is Leopard Street in the locality of Burraja. Leopards in Australia? The application form was hand-written and from the 1950s. I even asked the person helping me: “Is there a Leopard Street in Burraja?”
She replied, “I’ve never heard of it.”
“Could it be Leopold?” I asked, as I tried to decipher the swirling cursive script. We have plenty of roads here named after English queens and kings and such. Maybe there was a King Leopold. Goodness, don’t ask the American immigrant about British history and how that has been honoured in a Commonwealth country.
So I did what everyone does. I had 9000 records to finish and not a lot of time to pack them. So I googled it.
And yes, there is a Leopard Street in Burraja. And I passed by it today.
I feel pretty good. I am slowly getting better. I don’t have nearly as much muscle pain these days. My hip pain is gone except when I’m really tired (or standing and packing records for 10-hour days, for two weeks straight). I still get quite swollen legs from the lactic acid build-up, but the twitchy weird stuff has largely gone. And today, even 35 kms into it, I feel not a twitch. Oh, I’ve got no muscle mass left, but nothing hurts.
(And yeah, that 15 ha grassfire that started on Lewis Road on Christmas Day – one of the roads we pass today – it wasn’t me. Honest. I wasn’t riding fast enough to produce flame.)
Eventually we get to Redlands Road. This road is slowly being upgraded as funds allow, and there are sections here and there that are nice and wide and smooth. There are other bits that are still narrow and chunky. And we immediately ride through a 2 km section that is down to dirt ready for seal. But it’s all good – I see not a soul. Normally, there are a lot of trucks on this road – and anyone coming/going from/to Berrigan cuts through on this road, too. So I don’t ride it. But today it is mine.
More flat fields, some nice remnant stands of pine and gum here and there in small reserves. There’s a property every 3-5 kms. Other than that it is just me, the bike, the guys and the heat. It started off at 15C today which is very comfortable… and fine for sleeping. But it is already 26C by 8am.
I pass over the irrigation canals for the West Corurgan Irrigation District and then stop for a snack where the Merton Road joins (I have ridden that one before – never again – it’s in terrible shape). I’ve been riding against a 10kph headwind for a bit now, and I’ll have it all the way home. It’s getting warm. Let’s get some sugar in us to propel us the last 10kms into town.
I’m not eating any processed foods at the moment – so no chocolate or other goodies with added sugar. Instead, I stand there and eat about 15 cherries. My riding friend Don gave me a kilo of gorgeous ones yesterday. They’re delicious! And they get us back home.
We’re home by 10am. 56 kms was definitely enough for me today. Nothing hurts. I haven’t overdone it. But the autonomic nervous system issues mean I still have some troubles regulating my body temperature. I haven’t felt fantastic for the last bit into town, and I don’t know if it is fatigue or it’s because I’m not sweating enough or because it feels hotter to me than it should. Nevertheless, when it is already 32C at 10am… surely anyone could feel a bit blecch?
I have joked with everyone that I’ve had a very nice preview over the past six months of what hot flushes will be like when I hit menopause. When my cortisol was through the roof, I had night sweats and strange feelings of being all tingly and hot and then freezing… in addition to the nervous system dysfunction which makes me feel hotter than I should when it’s hot and colder than I should when it’s cold. And no… it’s not the start of menopause. I know. I tell you I have been tested for EVERYTHING in the past year!
Tomorrow we round out the year and will get up early to get in our last 19kms or so to reach 4000kms for the year.
For the rest of today? Hanging out in a cold bath watching movies – Bird Flu, Loving Vincent and A Quiet Passion are the ones on my list for today.
Boxing Day Ride – 26 Dec – 24 kms
I am supposed to ride with Don this morning at 7.30 am. I think I’m going to get up early and get my last kms done before I meet with him. But, nope, that’s not happening. I’m sleeping out on the back patio in my mesh tent and it is just too cool and nice after a hot night for another sub-6am start. I’ll go get those last kms after my ride with Don.
So I head down the bike path towards his place at 7.10am. Plenty of other folks are out exercising and walking dogs before the heat hits, too. But Don is nowhere to be seen. I circle the block and come back. Nup, Don is going to be a no-go. He’s not really a morning person.
He is taking rubbish out when I roll by the second time though, so I stop to tease him (in a good-natured way of course). He apologises for letting me down (he hasn’t – I ride regardless – I just try to get him out as much as I can). He had a big Christmas dinner yesterday, got to bed late, and just turned off the alarm when it came on this morning. He promises me he’ll ride his exercise bike later today in the air-conditioned house to make up for it.
And then I’m off to pick up my final kms. I won’t be riding anymore this year – I’m just going to laze about inside for the rest of the year. Because what else do you do when it is 43C for three days in a row? I’m going to watch movies, catch up on correspondence, sleep, sleep some more, and do two more modules in the online course I’m doing. (That’s another sign of recovery – the brain fog is mostly gone most of the time and I have the brain power to do a trades-level course in my free time – i.e. evenings. I have been whipping through modules since I started the course in early November. I plan to do the 12 month course in six months max).
So here go the final kms. On a very hot Boxing Day morning. 4,000 is well short of the goal I set in January of 6760 kms. However, I only should have ridden about 2500 to 3000 kms max this year – the riding I did from March to May was waaay too much for my body to handle.
But at the time I set the goal, I was under the impression that I had had the misfortune of contracting a second mozzie virus in six months. And so I thought I would feel crap for a little bit and then go on my merry way.
I could not have been so wrong. No, it was not Ross River (though I do have antibodies for it, so have had it and not known it at some point in the past). This was the beginning of eight months of every single test imaginable, more than 147 individual serum tests, every possible orifice violated….
And the diagnosis, more or less, because everyone is a bit non-committal and like, “yeah, it’s most likely this, but there is no biomarker to be sure”, is ME/CFS brought on by persistent West Nile virus. I pushed too hard, too fast after that virus and ignored continuing symptoms. Then, when I did the hardest three day ride I’ve ever done, and did that with too little food and too much exertion, my body said: FUCK YOU. Everyone said, “Oh yeah, I’ve bonked before, too.” And try as I might, I just could not explain that it was more than just a ‘bonk’ – because, believe me, I’ve done that before, too.
No, that was my neuro-immune system saying enough is enough and starting the cascade of mitochondrial dysfunction and a million other symptoms that sucked the life right out of me. I declined rapidly after that ride. At this time last year, on the 30th and 31st of December, I was so sick I could not even get out of bed. I literally could not get up. I had to roll off my sleeping pad (I prefer to sleep on the floor) and crawl to the toilet, then take a ten-minute break lying on the cool tiles of the laundry room floor on the way back to bed. The throbbing and stabbing pain in my back, legs and arms was excruciating. I literally writhed in pain. My guts were all messed up. I had neuropathy pains shooting through my arms and legs. The brain fog made me feel a million miles away. The hip pain started, as well as pain in the ball of my left foot. I felt weak and I just could not come up with the energy. To do anything at all.
So I have come incredibly far from those lowest two days, and the six weeks in total where I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. Doing anything at all at that time felt like a marathon – and I could not think or reason or plan or remember anything much at all. I knew I was unwell. But only now, looking back, do I see just how sick I really was. I am amazed at how far I’ve come – with most of that recovery in the past four months.
I don’t always know whether it is West Nile or the ME/CFS causing me certain symptoms – because both can cause fatigue, nerve pain, memory problems and issues with word recall. But ME/CFS is the source of the post-exertional malaise – that sneaky bastard that makes me feel like shit for days or weeks if I overdo things. I feel like it is where the most space for recovery lies over the next year. I have come a long, long way, but I still have a long way to go.
And so, yeah, we did 4,000 kms this year. But I really don’t care. I am just glad that I wake up each day feeling fatigued instead of like death. I’m glad that I do feel somewhat ‘refreshed’ after a night of sleeping and that I don’t usually wake up for hours at a time somewhere in the middle of it. I am just glad I’ve reclaimed some of my life and seem to be on a good trajectory. Because who cares about kilometres when you are celebrating that you can think again, and the constant pain you felt for 9 months is not so constant anymore.
A goal for next year? I don’t think I’ll indulge in a cycling one. I don’t usually need too much motivation to get out there, because cycling is who I am and what I do. And I’m ready to make up for all of the rides I plotted but could not do this year. And because I will have a NEW BIKE in June to ride and to take places my touring bike can’t go.
No, I think my goal in the coming year is to just to regain at least 85 percent of my riding capacity without causing myself any harm. I think I’m at about 40 percent now. I will laze about the rest of summer and then I will slowly, ever so slowly, start trying to rebuild muscle and fitness when the weather starts to cool in March. I am now very aware of all the little signs that I’m overdoing things, so I will focus on pacing and just building back up kilometre by kilometre. Slow but sure. Just like my turtle.
See you in the new year!