10/11 February 2019
Total Kms: 70 kms (44 miles)
It’s a part of you. It’s not something you can change. You can push it back – hold it back – refrain from acknowledging that it is who you are. It’s like eye colour or hair colour or body shape. It’s not a choice. It’s just who you are. It’s psychologically damaging to be told it’s a choice. It’s physically damaging if you ignore it.
Because riding a bicycle is just a piece of your identity – something maybe you didn’t ask for, but something that is life-changing once embraced.
I’ve been a cyclist forever. Before forever, I had a little red wagon and an old skateboard that my dad had turned into a scooter. There were some hand-me-down rollerskates, too. I’ve ALWAYS been on wheels. I do remember my first bike with training wheels. I also remember the day somewhere around age 5 that I first pedaled without assistance on Burton Court – the street behind ours that had not yet seen housing development.
It was my favourite thing to do as a kid – go ride my bike. I was always pushing the ‘boundaries’ of where I was allowed to ride. As I rode all over the neighbourhood, I fantasized that I was riding to California to see Luke Skywalker. As a tomboy, I simultaneously was in love with him and wanted to BE him. I never looked up to, or wanted to be, Princess Leia. I wanted to go adventure with Luke Skywalker!
Most Westerners that have the cycling gene have a gap in their cycling years. Most people turn to cars at 16 and don’t return to bikes until sometime later in life. But, oh no, I never wanted a car. I didn’t get my driver’s licence or my first car until I turned 30. Between ages 16 and 25, when most people are becoming entrenched with autos, I was riding the most I would ever ride in my life. I rode daily for hours – it was also my means of transport and I took my bike all over the place. Cycling was a lifestyle and it became one of those things that is automatic – like brushing your teeth each morning and eve.
Later, when I was doing a PhD and Post-Doc and looking after someone with deteriorating mental illness, I did not have time or energy to ride, and it was the most miserable time of my life. It was even worse than all of the debilitating illness of the past 18 months.
And so…. I know when I can’t ride that life really, really sucks.
So life really, really sucked this summer between 26 December and about 8 Feb. We had insane heat and all sorts of temperature records broken. It was the hottest December and the hottest January on record. And we broke those records by a whole lot, not just by a degree or two. It was miserable and just way too hot to ride.
To add to the misery, one of my ME/CFS symptoms involves nervous system problems – my body has no idea how the heck to regulate its temperature and I feel the heat much sooner than most, yet my body doesn’t do the right things to cool me down. It was very frustrating to feel all my symptoms regressing after I’ve been fighting so hard for such tiny amounts of recovery ☹
Heatwaves are one of those phenomena that people tend to downplay, likely because they have a fair amount of privilege and spend their life in climate-controlled conditions. Yet, in Australia, heat kills more people than all other natural disasters combined. In the 2009 two-week heatwave in Victoria, nearly 300 people died, many more than the disastrous bushfires that swept through on 7 Feb that year.
So I hate to think what the death toll will be from this summer’s 5.5 weeks of insane heat – since it lasted so much longer and was so much more widespread. At the same time, America’s polar vortex lasted a week and killed less than 30 people, yet dominated headlines worldwide. Heat is not dramatic, but it is deadlier since there is no way to escape it for many people.
Yet, finally, the weather patterns shifted. Perfect weather was forecast for the weekend. The cyclist in me perked right up. Let’s go ride!!!!
Originally, Sat, Sun and Mon all had perfect weather forecast. So the crew and I studied the map to think about where we might like to ride. We can only ride pretty flat roads and no more than 30-50 kms at the moment. Anything more and I induce post-exertional malaise and regress all of my symptoms. However, the map showed a great possibility:
- Ride the one dirt section of the River Road we haven’t yet ridden – ride by the arboretum again.
- Camp for the night in Tintaldra. Do a day ride to Tooma and back on Sunday and pick up two new roads.
- Then on Monday ride back to Walwa on the bitumen on the VIC side of the river.
Perfect!! Elevation gains and distance are all within my limits!
But Saturday’s forecast turned to windy with late afternoon showers. The rain would be okay as I would likely be where I needed to be by then, but 35-40 kph winds might be more than what my body can handle, even if it wasn’t likely to be a headwind. It turned out to be a good decision based on what did eventuate. That just means we didn’t get to do the Tooma day ride. We’ll save it for another time.
Early Sunday we drive the two hours up to Walwa. I’m packing up the bike by 9.30am. The temperature is just 6 degrees Celsius. I have goosebumps as I stand there in shorts and a high-vis shirt. PERFECT!!
I warm up quickly as we head up onto the hills at the edge of the valley. The sun is bright, but the angle is noticeably lower than our last long ride on Christmas Day just after the solstice. I feel good and the guys seem to almost be leaning forward in the handlebar bag with anticipation. We’ve been down this section of road many times, but we are looking forward to a new section of road just over the river– we love the unknown when we’re on the bike!
We roll over the Murray River bridge. The road is quiet – we only see one group of motorcycles before we hit the dirt. We roll past the Jingellic Pub. It has resurrected itself in recent years and is now a very busy place. It supposedly has decent meals. It does have a very nice beer garden overlooking the river and reserve below.
The camping reserve is packed out! I can’t believe how many people are squished in there. The pub has a good thing going with that free reserve. The pub offers cheap showers and do a fair trade in beer and food for the campers.
Everyone down there is just packing up, but I won’t see any of them on the dirt road today. They must be heading off on the paved roads. We pedal up above the river and past isolated farms. The road will undulate but will only have two short steep hills in its 30 or so kays. The views are long across the river valley.
Part of the reason I wanted to ride this road today is to see the volcanic dykes above the road up close. I love this area and am drawn back repeatedly to ride here. There is something deeply spiritual about this area to me. I can’t pin it. It’s like that cyclist identity. It’s just a feeling, a deep connectedness to something bigger than you. I felt this way both times on my favourite touring road ever (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway in WY) – another place of spectacular geology. I guess some people are connected to their God; I am connected to rocks.
This area has many features of volcanism from the Devonian. There were lots of things happening around here starting about 400 million years ago. This includes the emplacement of Mt Mittamatite and Pine Mountain – Australia’s largest monolith, the Tintaldra dyke swarm (and other dyke-forming events), and the collapsed caldera of Mt Burrowa.
It’s all in view as I ride along today. My head is on a swivel and my brain is thinking, thinking, thinking. This is one of the things I love about being on the bike. I can think about what this place would have looked like waaaay back then when Australia was still part of Gondwanaland and the continent was going through crustal extension (adding pieces of land to the “East” coast). I can stop wherever I want and just take it all in. I can ponder and stare and pedal. It makes me feel alive and connected and whole. I need this like I need air to breathe.
The weather is perfect. It is sunny and clear. It is warm – not hot. The light breeze is variable and feels good when I stop. At one point, I see one little puff of a cloud, as if it’s the single droplet of a sneeze left after all the other expulsions have been wiped away from the surface of the sky.
I had myself psyched up to ride this road. I’ve ridden all of its other sections, and all of its other sections have always sucked. After the first 13 kms, I’ll be riding a section of the road I rode back in 2016 that was soul and butt-destroying. It was so sandy and so corrugated it was like trying to ride the swells of an ocean in each road corner. They were some of the deepest corrugations I’ve ever encountered. So I knew that was likely, but I also knew I wouldn’t be riding many kays today, so I figured I could suffer through the length of time it might take.
But, no! The road has been regraded somewhat recently and it’s in really good shape! There are a few deeply corrugated and/or sandy sections, but overall, it is very pleasant. I make really good time and it is not soul-destroying whatsoever. Thank you Road Gods, or Snowy Valleys Council, whomever would like to take credit.
Give me blue skies, a road with no traffic, light winds, my frog, the turtle and my bike and I really don’t need much more in life to be happy. Repeatedly over these two days, I keep thinking, “Yep. I could just keep going. Really, I could just not go back. I could just keep going and going.” Never mind that every direction but back toward home involves crossing mountain ranges and my body cannot yet do any real amount of climbing!
I stop for lunch in the shade of the oak trees on the edge of the Jephcott Arboretum. I rode by here once before but didn’t really have time to stop and have a look – the road was riding terribly slow that day and I was trying to cover a lot more kays than today!
Fire ripped through here in 2009, but luckily, it did not wipe out everything. The arboretum has an interesting history and is associated with Victoria’s premier botanist of the 1800s. Its historic value is important, though the aboretum isn’t well-tended these days. I can’t tell what is what – I can just tell that there are a lot of exotics down there.
I’m particularly interested in trying to see if I can spot the CA Redwood that did survive the fires. Oh – there it is – but it’s in pretty sad shape. The climate here is much hotter and drier than its native habitat, and the poor thing doesn’t look so good. I wish there was some way to be shown around the property – just to put names to trees and to better understand the significance of the place.
Still, lunch in the thick shade of the oak trees with rhyolite boulders strewn about connects 400 million years of history for me and that is enough to try to get your head around while you munch on nuts and rice crackers.
I only see three cars in these 30 or so kms, all within 10 minutes at the very beginning of the road. So I can sit right on the edge of the road for lunch in the shade and feel like the whole place is mine. One of the things I love about Oz is how easy it is to get away from the crowds on the bike.
After lunch we just enjoy more geology and the long views up the valley. Eventually, the main range and the massif of Kosciuszko National Park fills the eastern horizon as the river meanders below. I thought there might still be smoke haze around from the Possum Point fire which burnt more than 6500 ha over the past month or so. But it’s clear, there’s no smoke rising, though there are burnt hillsides viewable in the distance. Our timing is good!
Eventually we roll into Tintaldra as the wind begins to pick up. There’s not much to Tintaldra. The tea rooms aren’t open today and the pub closed again in October last year. The Council wouldn’t let the owner allow free camping out the back, probably because there is a caravan park just behind that. So without any other sort of draw that can compete with the Jingellic Pub just 30 kms away (the general store in Walwa also does good coffee and meals) – there’s no beer in Tintaldra once again.
I’ve been through Tintaldra a few times before but I’ve never ridden past the caravan park. It’s a really sad and run-down looking place. There’s so much free camping around here on the river, it must be tough to make it.
We ride to the reserve at Clarke’s Lagoon. Last time I was here in 2016, the area had just had major flooding and the reserve was closed to let it dry out. That time, I lugged all my gear over the locked gate and camped on the hill above the river flats.
Today is just the most perfect day, though, and we are able to camp down on the flats. That 2016 flood dumped a lot of nice sand on this inside bend, so it will be a soft bed tonight! I find a nice spot that is unlikely to be crowded by people with generators and I set the guys out to float for awhile.
I nap, I read Ray Bradbury, I just lie there feeling excellent. Oh, yes, I could just keep going. I could hit the road and not look back! It is peaceful here, lying on the grass, contemplating the sky, the geology and then… nothing. This is meditation on steroids. I’m inhaling all those good ions and watching the leaves on the trees dance with light and gentle movements on the breeze. I watch the corellas alight en masse from a tree. Their deafening shrieks drown out the cows mooing on the other side of the river. There is much flapping, sailing and changes of direction before they settle down in a tree just a hundred metres away. 20 minutes later they do the same. All afternoon. Eventually, I put my ear buds in and drown them out with music.
I do nothing much from 1.30pm to dusk. It is a perfect day. After so much stupendous heat, we deserved a weekend like this!
As the sun begins to set behind the hills, I watch a lone corella in the distance flitting through the low rays of the sun. He is then followed by a couple more of his friends. They look like little pieces of paper thrown upward on the drafts of a campfire. One corella alights on the top of a dead tree – a long branch tipped by a white blob, perfectly highlighted by the last rays of sun. The golden aura in the atmosphere retreats and I am excited that I can now see a long and curving dyke on the hill opposite. I hope it will be clearer with the morning sun shining on it and I can enjoy its detail more then.
The day visitors have all gone home. I have the whole place to myself. Usually there would be at least one or two grey nomads down here with caravans, but not tonight. There’s no mosquitoes, no flies, no reason to hurry into the tent.
So I watch the transition from day to night (ear buds still in to drown out the shrieking corellas). I watch the colours bleed out and the sky go dark. The stars slowly appear and the satellites give up their paths and positions. Orion is up there (upside down to how I learned to ID him as a kid) and I feel close to my parents – it’s one of the few constellations that can be seen in both hemispheres. I love the sense of time and space – the feeling of utter finiteness but total connection.
Eventually, I crawl in the tent and lay flat on the sleeping pad. I’ve got a good pillow put together tonight and the air is cool. I sleep hard, only waking once to the possums fighting and screaming at each other. At one point, one of them ends up ‘rolling’ into the tent fly before scurrying back to the action. My rubbish bag is in the tent vestibule – I’m glad I didn’t hang it in the tree!
Morning arrives and I immediately peek my head out to see if I can see that dyke in the hillside opposite. Yes! It’s a gorgeous one! The dyke swarm here was the first event of all of the volcanism and granite emplacements. 400 million years ago that rhyolite was being squeezed up through those cracks. Then, not much exciting happened until about 95-65 million years ago when Gondwanaland broke up in the late Cretaceous. At that time, the basins off Gippsland and the Otways sunk and this area was uplifted again. Since then, it’s just been more erosion. But all those millions of years of erosion, uplift and more erosion mean I can see that beautiful dyke over there in February 2019. It’s an infinite number of puzzle pieces and I’m just one little jigsawed piece.
The sun is drying the tent a little – there’s heavy dew. I pack up and head out a bit before 9am. It’s only about 20 kms back to the car this morning. The road on this side of the river is paved but is a lot more hilly. There’s nothing too taxing, though, and the views are great. I look up and forward to Pine Mountain and back over to the dykes above the road from yesterday. Most exciting is seeing a few places where the road cuts across a dyke on the uphill side of the road. I didn’t notice those last time I rode this, so I love that I am picking out new bits in the landscape. Seeing these roadside dyke examples gives me more joy than you would really want to know!
I get a couple friendly car toots today, too. The guy in the Fisheries truck smiles wide and gives me a thumbs up from the steering wheel. Yep. I could just keep going. I’m overdue for a long ride. I’ve got to get well first and get this ME/CFS in remission and then put the next tour on my medium-term plan!
A couple of cars with nice bikes on top passes me close to Walwa. After I get changed and pack the car, I head over to the general store, purchase a juice (there is not much available that meets my current dietary restrictions) and have a chat with the cars’ occupants. I always feel like a fraud when I’m just out for a long weekend instead of a long tour! The guys are all skinny roadie blokes in their early-mid 20s. They have stayed at Khancoban and done big rides with big climbs for the weekend.
I don’t think I really care about what they think, but when they ask how many kms I have done, I feel compelled to say, “I can only do about 50 kms a day at the moment. I’m still trying to recover from a mosquito virus.” Why did I, a middle-aged chick, have to qualify the length of the ride to 20-something boys? Because even though I got a nice dose of finiteness over the past two days – what I call Speck Theory – I guess I’m still a big enough piece of a modern day puzzle to have an ego that cares what other cyclists think! The guys are kind, though, and we all agree it’s a beautiful area and wish we could just keep riding.
And so goes another awesome weekend on the bike. It was short and sweet and easy. BUT, my body did not mind it at all. I endured no PEM over the following days. I never got the tingly crap in my legs. I am getting better. Slowly, my god, so slowly. I am slowly calling the mitochondria back to do their jobs. Now, it’s back to my job and 25,000 files that need to be scanned and registered. Until we ride again….