15/16 March 2019
106 kilometres (66 miles)
This ride is driven by a sense of urgency and by a sense of betrayal.
There is a sense that the good days are numbered, if you can call these good. After a super-hot and miserable summer, there is a feeling that you MUST get out there in March and April to take advantage of the ‘good’ weather before the autumn break and the winter rains come.
However, climate change is shifting things, and March is now more like February used to be. Consequently, we’ve still been getting a lot of hot days (a 39C last week and a forecast of 35C on the 22nd and 23rd this coming week). Thankfully, the nights have been cool enough for sleeping, though.
So I feel like I must get out this weekend, even though the high temps for Fri and Sat are still 31 and 32C (still hotter than I like, especially with my overheating issues). I MUST go ride. Besides, it was my birthday through the week, and I’ve knocked back a few offers of celebration so I can spend some time pedaling.
My original plan is to head down to Benalla – I’ve got a good overnight planned out of there that will extend the distance pedaled from the last overnight ride in February but not include any climbing. Yet, they are still fighting summer bushfires in many places in Victoria, so there is a smoke advisory out for that area.
I quickly look at the map and try to figure out where I could go that will be less smoky, won’t have too much climbing and will include a new road. I also need to meet Nigel in Albury to hand over my car registration papers for Molar – after only 9 months and 5,000 kms, she is being sold (don’t ask – it’s not a nice story and is the latest in my stupidly long list of current woes).
So that is how we find ourselves driving up to Tallangatta in my old car, Necessary Beast, on Friday. My car parking spot is open. I’ve left the car here on enough 2 and 3-day rides that I have ‘my’ spot – a place that gets shade across from the pub near a picnic table. My thinking is that the car is less likely to be stolen out-the-front of the pub late at night as it would in a less-trafficked area. Plus, the picnic table is perfect for assembling gear.
It’s 11.30am before we’re ready to go. I hop over the road to the café called Teddys. It’s been around for a couple years and is a vast improvement on other food and drink options in this town. They do handmade donuts that I’ve never tried before. And since this is my birthday ride, and my favourite treat as a kid for my birthday were Rich’s frozen donuts, I’m going to try a couple. I’ve not had donuts since 2017. And I’ve not had anything AT ALL like this for the past 6 months. So it really is a treat.
I pack the donuts in my front pannier and then sit down and have a tub of red grapes and raspberries – I haven’t eaten yet today. The raspberries are a treat, too. My parents used to grow some on the west side of the house in Indiana, so I have fond memories of eating my fill off the canes as a kid. Even these days, I could easily eat 125 grams of these every day for the rest of my life. If I ever own my own home, I will definitely grow raspberries!
The guys and I head off to the east on the rail trail. We’ve ridden this section countless times to get us up to more interesting roads into the hills. Plus, nothing will ever top the ride last year when we rode this in the dark with a full moon rising over the lake. Today, it’s just a hot slog into the wind. We wind along below the highway, spinning up through cuttings and coasting down the other sides.
When we get up to our turn-off, I ride just a little bit further round to an overlook of the lake. This is where the original Council chambers once stood in the 1800s. There is a bench here in the shade of an oak tree, so I stop to enjoy the first donut with the guys. It has chocolate icing and real custard inside. I don’t really like the chances of custard standing up to today’s heat, so we’ll enjoy a sugar hit just 10kms into the ride.
Yum! It’s tasty, but denser than I’d like. The real custard is a huge improvement over the fake cream that you find in Long Johns in America though. The guys are VERY happy with a sugary treat. Don’t get used to it terrestrial creatures, we are severely limiting junk food going forward!
Next, we head down the Yabba Road. We are riding into a 15-20kph headwind, gusting to 28kph, the entire day today. Yes, you know that feeling. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. We roll up and down the spurs on the edge of the empty Tatonga Inlet. With less than half of our average rainfall last year, and even less than that this year so far, the dam is down to about 26 percent. It’s got to be at least 80 percent to see water up here. Right now, it’s just an empty expanse of grass occupied by a few campers and cows. The hills all around are brown and sparse. And sadly, there are rumours we might get a gigantic El Nino later this year (which means hot weather and no rain).
We turn off on the Spring Creek Road. We’ve done this one quite a few times. It’s a nice, long climb up a valley and over a low point in the ridge. There’s always water in the creek – so the spring must be reliable. We rode up this in October 2016, after the wettest five-month period and wettest September on record, when there was water everywhere. There was water glistening on all the rock faces; there was water roaring down the creek as it ‘ran a banker’, there was water cascading down every indentation in the fields. And yet today, it is silent and dry and dead.
Except for the grasshoppers/locusts. They are in abundance in the roadside grass, and in places, it is an all-out assault on the guys and me. We all get whacked in the head at least once. With a much bigger and exposed body mass, I take countless hits. I even have to stop once to take off my helmet after one gets down in a vent hole and starts crawling around on my head.
There are two short, steep sections on this road. I have no fitness or muscle left. And I’ve got this crappy energy production disease, but I do okay on the steep bits. My heart rate gets up there, like I’m not supposed to do, but not for long and it returns to normal pretty quickly. I stand there at the top of the first steep hill and look at all the pines across the valley that have been harvested. I’m glad I wasn’t on this road when the logging trucks were! Simple blessings.
At the top of the climb, before we begin the speedy, slippery descent into the Tallangatta Creek valley, I stop to take a picture. I also stop to take off my Camelbak to ensure I’ve got no insect passengers. And here I get the very painful reminder of our second reason we had to ride today.
This is where the sense of betrayal I mentioned at the start comes in. A few months ago, I hurt my left shoulder, or thought I had. I could no longer lay on the floor with my arm outstretched and my head in my hand. Other movements were painful, too. The pain seemed to go away a bit in January, but it came back with a vengeance in February. By the beginning of March, I’d gotten to the point where it became difficult to put on a bra and a shirt. I couldn’t reach and lift anything. The pain was severe enough that it was disrupting my sleep (such a precious thing to someone with ME/CFS).
So I went to the physio on Monday. His diagnosis: adhesive capsulitis. His prognosis: it comes out of nowhere, but women in their 30s and 40s, and people with diabetes, thyroid disorders or Parkinsons are much more likely to get it. It will get worse before it gets better. The pain will last 3-9 months. The restricted movement will likely last another 9-12 months beyond that, but the pain will ease. And then, finally, after all of that, it will slowly ‘thaw’ and resolve on its own. Oh, and you could get it in your other shoulder, too, and there may be some signs of that already.
FUCK. How much more do I have to take? Really! I’ve got no energy. Every day I feel like most people feel when they call in for a sick day, and the days I call in sick (which have been very few thankfully), I literally can’t do more than get out of bed to go pee. And so now, you’re telling me I’m not going to move my arms much either!! Just how many ways can a body betray you when you treat it well!
And so today, we are riding just in case we get to a point where the movement is so restricted that we can’t. I have an image of myself as a very tired T-Rex trying to do things with shoulders that don’t work. So let’s go ride now while the left shoulder just hurts like hell, but still has enough movement to do most things, albeit painfully.
So, standing there, at the top of the ridge, I discover that I cannot take off my Camelbak easily. I do the most natural movement I must have done millions of times in the past and find my arm does not bend like that presently. I have to sort of shrug off the Camelbak and let it slip down my vertically hanging left arm. The pain is there all day today, the pain is always there, but I can do several of my prescribed exercises while I ride, and that helps a bit. I really did not think perseverance was a personal trait I needed to develop further, but here we are.
We fling down the ridge on the other side. The surface is rougher than the other times we’ve been through here. All the soft stuff that felt like riding through snow on a previous trip has been dispersed into sandy ridges on the edge. Instead, we zip over rough road base as we descend into a curve. The views of the rounded hills are impressive – heaped hills of Ordovician sediment laid down on a sea floor and then uplifted in the Benambran Orogeny as the sea became land, and the east coast of Australia was extended. This was also around the time that life was starting to set its eyes on land, as well. The late Ordovician and early Devonian was a time of major tectonic upheaval in these parts, and also the time in Earth’s history that life left the seas behind. It’s hard to imagine all of that excitement on a hot and dry, lifeless day like today, but it all went down some 385-400 million years ago.
We roll through the rounded hills and then pop out into the wide, lower reaches of the Tallangatta Creek Valley. Again, you wouldn’t know it, but this is a pretty special spot. There is a fault underlying this valley that separates two zones that were active during the period of crustal extension. This fault is around 120 kms (!) long and reaches up into NSW. The fault is a strike-slip fault, meaning that the western side of the valley is heading northwest and the other side of the valley is heading southeast. Even now, every few years, there will be a minor earthquake down this way – nothing glamorous but enough to be felt.
We ride up the valley into the wind. It is quiet. It is peaceful. The locals are all giving big, friendly waves today. Even the guy that comes flying along at supersonic speeds in a 4WD on the opposite side of the road hangs an arm out the window in a wave. Really, at those speeds, I would have preferred both hands on the wheel and a simple index finger wave!
We crawl along uphill. It’s not a steep up, but it is up the whole way. Over 53 kms today, we’ll gain 550 metres in elevation (though most of it was on that climb over the ridge). The tourist sign calls the area “Pure Serenity”. I don’t think that is what I would call it – serenity would be a bit less human-influenced, but bucolic would be a good word. Those friendly locals – lifting an arm to wave from the doors of dairy sheds, the gently ascending road through pleasant pastoral paddocks, the native-forested hills reaching down into the valley in spurs, the quiet, low traffic road… it’s all good stuff. But oh, it loses a bit of its charm as we huff and puff uphill as the wind tries to blow us down… or over.
It’s hot, around 32C, but the wind helps with the evaporative cooling and the heat is a baking one, unlike the absolute searing heat of late December through early February. I am very happy to be out here today, but I’m very concerned that I’m overdoing it. Somewhere in the upper valley, at around kilometre 45, I’m pretty done. My legs don’t have the tingly feeling that I know is an indicator of awfulness to come, but they don’t feel great either. And I’m just plain worn out. Even when really healthy, a headwind of that strength would have me pretty tired just 20 or 30kms further into it.
But we press on. We don’t really have a choice. Finally, we come to the end of the paved road. The road into the bush looks like someone’s driveway. Because it is. I’m used to it now, I’ve lived in Oz long enough, but it never ceases to feel a little intrusive when you head up a laneway through someone’s private property to access the bush.
We ride right by the shedding and the gate to the main house, but I don’t see anyone out. We continue upward on the rough laneway until we come to a fork. My map shows the left fork curving back to the right fork. It is a more well-formed track, so we head that way. ERROR! The well-formed bit ends at a cattle grid and everything ends all together a bit further ahead. There are just a couple of dilapidated shacks that somehow survived the ’03 fires and now have cattle picking among the scraps.
So I turn around and bump and zoom back down the uphill I just climbed to get back to the other fork. We set off down this track. And at this point, 5 or so kms from the end of the day, I am done. Stick a fork in me… instead of the road.
That is how you come to find me riding along NEXT to the track on the grass instead of in the bumpy ruts.
Why is that a big deal?
Because it is the thorny time of year. I’ll get more punctures in March and April than the rest of the year combined. Sometimes I get no punctures at all, except in these two months. So I’m pretty careful about staying on the road at this time of year. But I’m throwing all caution to the wind (‘with’? the wind – it’s still blowing a gale) today. I ride right up that grass like there’s no such thing as a thorn.
There is one steep and eroded bit before a gate that I have to get off and push the bike up. But the gate has an easy latch and it’s not too far beyond that before we hit the bush. Aaaaaahhhhh.
I ride up about a kilometre to a spot on my map that shows an informal campsite. It’s a large area and there is no one there. Just after this, the track starts to climb steeply, and Google’s satellite view didn’t give me too much hope for finding something further along.
I set up the tent. And then I lay down on my sleeping pad next to the tent and do absolutely nothing for a good 20 minutes. I just lie there and look up to the wind in the trees – happy to be done riding in it!
It is good that I lugged along 2.5 litres of water with me today in a frozen bottle. The creek is dry. The frozen bottle hasn’t totally melted, so the ice cold water is delicious. Aaaaahhh. It’s been a good day, but I sure hope I haven’t overdone it! I think it would have been just the right amount of effort and distance if the wind hadn’t been so strong. But that may have been a tipping point.
The guys and I enjoy the second donut. Now this one, just a simple cinnamon twist, is excellent. Light and fluffy and soft. Two thumbs up from the arm-disabled crew. And yes, we all have shoulder problems now. Kermit’s left arm has been broken for a year or so now – the wire in his shoulder snapping some time ago. And now I’ve got a shoulder that doesn’t like to move. And Verne… well, poor Verne has never been able to keep his arms DOWN.
The late afternoon advances. One of the reasons I wanted to come this way was to see if I could get up to the junction with the Benambra Spur Road. There are good outcrops of the Tabor volcanics and evidence of the ring dyke from the Dartella caldera up there. Mt Cravensville above us is partly composed of the Murtagh ignimbrites from the explosive phase of the caldera. But we won’t get up there today. I’ve got nothing left – and the track gets too rough for my bike beyond this point anyway. If I were healthy, I’d just go for a walk up there, but I know that is waaaay too much for my body right now.
So if you can’t go to the rocks, you can at least see what rocks have come to you.
I take the guys down to the creek. I set them the task of finding heart rocks for my Mom and Dad. Where they live in Colorado, the town’s motto is “Heart of the Rockies”. Geographically, it’s in the centre of the mountains, but they also have a plethora of heart-shaped rocks around the area. My parents’ have a large collection of heart-shaped rocks they’ve found on their hikes.
With the guys off rock-hunting I plop myself down on the creek bed and inspect all of the rocks around me… trying to figure out which ones they might be. I have the geology map for this area, so I know what rocks are in this catchment. I definitely see some of the explosive volcanics and the metamorphosed shales and sandstones of the Ordovician. Perhaps the quartz is from the ring dyke.
You might just see a dry creek bed. But I see 400 million years of history. I see the building and erosion of a continent. I see explosive tectonics in the Devonian simultaneous with an explosion of life moving onto land. My favourite plant fossils were just evolving into those actual plants at that time. Australia was starting to take on more of the shape we know today. I see tremendous forces creating unfathomable amounts of upheaval, and slower but no less dynamic forces pulling it all apart. I see rounded rocks plucked from their places of deposition and tumbled and rolled down to this spot today. I see these quiet dry times when not much changes. But I also see that La Nina brings winters of torrid rains that erode more rock in two months than you sometimes might see in a century. And I laugh at those human time scales in the throes of Earth’s history.
I plop myself in a few different places in the creek, turning over each rock within reach (which is a decidedly shorter distance on my left!), spending an hour or so just looking at stones. As the sun sets, and the wind actually increases, the guys and I go back to the sleeping pad and have a dinner of salmon and bean salad on some flatbread crackers. Someone may have forgotten to bring a spoon!
After dark, I crawl in the tent and watch the stars appear. The tree branches still dance with the wind. After a day of all that in my ears, I’m ready for silence. There were no noisy birds at dusk, there’s no human noise in the distance. I hear no grunts from the possums. The only sound is that wind in the leaves. The creek is dry, there is no sound of water over rock. Just the sound of air through leaves.
I don’t sleep well. It’s a sign I’ve overdone it. Whenever I’m thoroughly exhausted but can’t sleep, I’ve breached my energy threshold. It’s called “tired but wired”. It’s as if my immune system has a chat with my neurological system and interpreted that physical activity as me needing to flee a threat. And now it’s got my body ready to keep fleeing…. Blasted mitochondrial and neuro-immune problems!
Plus, my shoulder really, really aches tonight. I’m am so afraid to take pain killers – NSAIDS are so rough on your stomach, and it took me nine months of hard work to get my guts back to normal, so I am terribly afraid of causing a relapse. So I just suck it up, try to become one with the ache…. and wake up a million times and have trouble going back to sleep each time.
In all of that wakefulness, though, I do note that the wind dies down around 3am. And then there is the silence. That blessed, precious, sacred thing that there is so little of in our present day. I think most people are afraid of silence. But I thrive on it. One of the times I hold most dear in my life was an eight-day solo backpacking trip in Nevada in 1999. I did not see or hear any humans for seven days straight. There were hours on end of complete silence. And I loved every second of it. I have no fear of silence.
And so I lay there in that scarce equilibrium – where the silence in your head equals the silence of the outside. Other than the slow beat of your heart in your ears, there is nothing to disconnect you from the atmosphere. Everything between me and the stars above is one – all connected by silence. There are no interruptions.
And once I stop thinking, and start concentrating on my breath flowing out and in with all of that silence, it is truly silent indeed. I don’t understand how people find it suffocating – to me I feel like I lose all definition and boundaries. It feels like all of me evaporates from form and just floats in that suspension of sound. I cannot get enough of silence.
I wake again in the pre-dawn. It is first light. I sleep more. I am in no rush. It will be all downhill except for the one climb over the ridge today. The wind should be a tailwind once it rises.
I am slow to take down the tent and pack up. I’m hungry. I don’t know what that means. Normally, I NEVER get hungry until about 10am. My body clock is pretty disgusted by food before about 8.30am, and I never consume anything before 10 or so if I can help it. The smell of bacon and eggs in the morning is about the grossest thing I can think of! And then I see people tucking right in…. Oh, I did not get that cycle!
I think I must be dehydrated. I drank 2 litres on the road yesterday and then another 750 mls last night. I would have drunk more, but I wanted to have 1.5 litres for the ride back today. It will be toasty again today and we aren’t rolling out until 9.30am! That is very late for the guys and me.
We do have a quick ride back down the valley though. It shows just how much climbing we did yesterday into that wind! We’re consistently sitting on 30kph with little effort. Whoosh! We only see two cars on the road the entire way down the valley. Gooood stuff.
I don’t hurt today. I’m not overly tired, other than from not sleeping well. But it will be Monday that the PEM will hit, if I’ve overdone it way too much, as that is always delayed by 48 hours or so. My shoulder is no more stiff than any other morning. I do my arm exercises as I ride. It’s all good. I need this type of weekend. Really, I need this type of life.
So the physio says frozen shoulders typically take 2.5-3 years before they fully resolve. I think I could see myself putting money away and planning the next longer tour in that time frame. IF I am going to recover from the ME/CFS, it is likely to have occurred in that time frame, too.
The tour planning wheels are starting to gain momentum in my head…..