80 kms (50 miles)
SAM has been a real pain in the arse this spring and early summer.
Every day it seems, SAM rears its head and makes things unpleasant.
I’d never heard of SAM before this year, but SAM is not kind to cyclists.
SAM, or the southern annular mode, can see the dominant westerly winds that normally flow south of the continent pushed further north causing strong winds in southern Australia. This has been occurring since September, and I think everyone is tired of it – not just cyclists. Every afternoon is windy with westerlies blowing anywhere from 15 to 30kph. Every day features a windy afternoon – unless a front comes through. Here’s another explanation in more layman’s terms.
So I haven’t been doing much riding in the afternoons. Instead, I spend the time picking up sticks and branches that have blown off the big peppertree out the back!
This does mean that all planning for riding and overnight tours has to keep SAM in mind. It would be a really poor time to be riding to Adelaide! Since I am constrained to ‘strolls in the park’ and very short overnight rides, I keep looking at the map to find places close to home that I can ride with the wind on Day 1, then get up early to ride home before the wind strengthens.
So today’s ride is an easy stroll up to Beechworth with one sole goal in mind: get a picture of Kermit at The Ageing Frog. I’ve been trying to get a pic of my ageing frog at that café for about four years now! It’s a small fish n chip shop that does everything homemade. Yet every time we are in Beechworth, we just aren’t there at the right time. We’re either way too early, or there in the late afternoon when the shop is closed between lunch and dinner, or already at our accommodation and too lazy to head back to town to eat.
So today is the day to get a picture of my ageing frog at The Ageing Frog!
We head out around 9am. I’m feeling a bit nauseous and have that really strange hot feeling about me. I know it is not high cortisol, as it was for about 6 months in 2018, and it is not early signs of menopause. It’s been going on for about 9 months now, but I just count it as one of my odd symptoms and don’t worry too much about it. (I now know this is a recurring fever from an infection, but more about that later).
The wind is already helping us as we head past the Cheese Factory, over the Ovens River, through Tarrawingee, over the little pedestrian bridge over Hodge Creek on River Road and on toward Newtons Road. It’s a bit cloudy and a bit cool – and I am all for that.
I am not sure how open paddocks backed by trees can look so different here to just a 45 minute drive away where I used to live, but gosh, this landscape, though very similar, is so much more attractive. I’m sure it’s got to do with this area receiving more rain, but still, it does my head in a bit that flat paddocks with trees can be so much more attractive here.
As I ride up River Road, I get very excited. Look! Way down there! It stands out! There’s a bit of red! Can you see it way up there!?
The challenge for the month over on Cycle365 is the colour red. And there’s some red in the form of a garbage bin lid way up ahead. It’s amazing how that stands out from 750 metres away.
On we go on the corrugated gravel on Newton’s Road – one we first rode back in September. We make it up to a crazy intersection of tiny gravel roads where there are 7 Give Way signs within 25 metres of each other.
We hop on the rail trail and head to Everton through the dry paddocks backed by the hills of the national park and the Beechworth plateau. From Everton, you have a 16 kilometre climb – it’s gentle but quite continuous. I know most people would not consider this a ‘stroll in the park’ ride, but I know I can spin at low speeds and keep my heart rate down. It will be good for my muscles, but nothing too taxing. And Beechworth is an appropriate distance from home for an easy ride – just 38 kms.
There are 7 vehicles parked at the station site, so I know I’ll see a group coming back down. And yes, we encounter a group of roadies strung-out over five minutes later on.
We start into the climb, assisted by the wind. We pass two guys walking up the trail with big packs. Ugh. I cannot imagine how they are enduring the flies. The flies are bad enough at my speed, and the guys weren’t wearing head nets. I am sure they must look at the cyclists going by and think, “hmmm, maybe there is something to that touring thing!”
We climb and climb, slowly and gently. It is cool enough I’m not sweating all that much which is a bonus in December. The nausea that started the ride has subsided, thank goodness. What is that all about?
Well, my visit to the doctor on Monday had a good surprise. It is good in the way that good is when all is shit. You normally wouldn’t call it good at all, but it is an improvement on total crap, so it is good. It turns out my major relapse that started in late March with a bad rash and spiraled down to barely being able to get out of bed in June and then continued on to feeling like crap up until now… well, there is a reason for it.
It turns out I have ANOTHER insect-borne disease. The antibodies and blood titres came back positive and high for two strains of Bartonella. You would normally get this through a cat/dog bite or scratch, but because I only have incidental exposure to those, my doctor thinks it was likely a tick or spider bite. If you look at its symptom list, you get everything I’ve been enduring for the past 9 months! Most people would clear this within 4-6 weeks, but because of my compromised immune system, it’s been having a field day for nine months!
The best part is that, because it’s a bacterium, it can be treated!! There is hope that I will get back to the energy levels I had in March before this all began. While those energy levels are far from normal, they were enough to be a functioning member of society and I did not have to drag myself out of bed for work each day. I always felt tired in the morning, but not like death warmed over.
So yippee! The nausea today as I started the ride was from the antibiotic bomb going off in my guts. It is an easy tradeoff for getting rid of some of these debilitating symptoms.
And so, while the war rages in my body between Zithromax and Bartonella – I pedal away. I’m not really supposed to be riding, BUT this is my week off between jobs. Normally I would plan a big tour in the mountains, so I am determined to do at least a teeny overnight.
We continue uphill. I’m feeling pretty good – I’m maintaining 12kph with little effort and no hard breathing. That’s not bad – normally I’d do this at 14-15kph, so I’m happy with my body’s effort.
This is a very scenic route, far away from major roads and away from any roads for a kilometre or so at a time. I’d recommend this to anyone. We roll through the ‘view blockers’. One of my online cycling acquaintances in Minnesota calls trees ‘view blockers’. There’s a lot of those where he lives. But here, we have another kind of view blocker – hills. The trail traverses many cuttings where the view is reduced to the cut through the hill and the trees above. It is gorgeous – well worth the effort of the ride.
Toward the top of the climb, a roadie I saw going downhill catches me on the uphill. He slows down to chat. He’s retired, lives in Tumut where we used to live, and decided to comes spend a few days in Beechworth because they’ve always driven through on their way to ski at Mt Hotham but never spent any time there. He’s recovering from a serious pelvis injury from when he was knocked off the bike back in March. He used to really enjoy competing, but he is too old for it now.
I tell him to head on, but he says he is in no hurry so he can ride with me into town. Now you must realise I was being a very good girl and keeping my speed and heart rate right down. I’ve now had to kick it up to 18kph on the uphill (I normally keep that speed on flat ground!) from my 12kph to keep up with his slowed speed. There is absolutely nothing about this that complies with what I’m supposed to be doing!
Finally, we come out of the trees at Baarmutha and the flies swarm us. They are all around our heads and he must have at least 30 on his back. FINALLY, after about 3 kms of me killing myself to keep up, he says he is going to go on ahead and pick up some speed to get rid of the flies. Thank Buddha! I could not have done that for another 4 or 5 kms!
We roll into Beechworth around 11.30am. I’m not hungry but I have to get the Kermit pic, so we head to the main street for the photo shoot. Weekends in Beechworth are generally pretty nutso, but today there is just a nice number of people – it feels vibrant but not overrun.
After some outdoor shots, I go in to order. I am allergic to fish, so I can never eat much in one sitting. So I order one piece of flathead – knowing I can eat about ¾ of that before my throat starts to swell up. I also order two salmon and dill fish cakes to save for dinner and one potato cake for Verne. (Nigel gets these occasionally for lunch on his route in Albury and always has leftovers through the week at dinner – Verne has decided he really likes them – they don’t really do much for me).
And then I ask the woman running the register if she could do one HUGE favour for me: take a picture with my ageing frog. I tell her that he’s done more than 30,000 kms of bike touring with me and I get pics of him on our adventures. She is more than happy to oblige. But then she realizes I want her in the picture, too. But she is quick to get on board and then says, “Wait, let me get my husband, so he can be in it, too”. Her husband is the chef/cook. She explains to him that Kermit has been around a long time and I want a picture. He is very happy to get in the picture and says, “Yeah, I still have my teddy from when I was a kid, too.”
We take lunch down to a protected area of the bike path and open the package to find that they have given me TWO pieces of flathead and TWO potato cakes, one of which is so huge it looks like a piece of fish. I have no idea how my body is going to deal with this. I have never in my life been able to digest fried foods very well, I’m allergic to fish, my guts have been all messed up for months now, AND I’ve got an antibiotic down there annihilating bacteria. This could get very uncomfortable (and it does, but not as bad as I imagine. I eat just part of one piece of fish and the small potato cake – I save the rest for later!).
Normally, I would have ordered a burger but felt like I had to do fish from a fish n chip shop. However, should you ever be in Beechworth, their burgers are hand-made and they put them on really nice fresh bread from Milawa Kitchen. And those homemade salmon and dill cakes are excellent!
After lunch, I wander around the shops a bit, but don’t find anything that stands out as a Christmas present for anyone. We then head over to Lake Sambell to rest, let the guys have a float in the adjoining creek, and then ring my parents. One of the things I love about mobile phones is that I can call my parents from anywhere I happen to be – and today we have a conversation while I’m sitting on a park bench in Beechworth!
After the phone call, we ride on up to the caravan park. There is a caravan park on the lake as well, with similar pricing, and no hill to ride up to get there… but I thought the setting of the one up the Stanley Road looked nicer. In the end, the cicadas up there are deafening and my energy is totally gone, so any plans to go for a walk or give the guys another float evaporates. I take a shower (if they provide no shampoo, just use the dish detergent, it worked fine 😊) and then lay down. And I do not get back up again. I doze on and off – watch part of the news and most of a David Attenborough doco on North America (I thought of you, Greg) and finally give in at 8.30pm.
I hope the Zithromax is winning the war against the Bartonella – I am so, so itchy I at least know the antibiotic is doing SOMETHING.
I would like to roll out by 6am, but I was awake between 3 and 4.30 or so with all that itchiness (on my back mostly, which is cruel when you have a dud shoulder that can’t reach a lot of places). So we roll out at 7am instead. It is cool, but not cold and SAM is still asleep.
There are plenty of people out on the rail trail for the first 5 kms. One woman scowls at me as she has to drag her dogs off the trail so I can go by. Sheesh – it’s not my fault you have poorly behaved dogs – I even slowed way down to below walking pace and gave her more than half the path!
But then we get to the long downhill through the forest and rail cuttings and we just coast at speeds between 23 and 32 kph. There’s no one out on this part of the trail. We see three different groups of kangaroos, one giant fox (!), and a honeyeater that flies so close to my head on his way somewhere that I duck! He wasn’t swooping me – we just happened to be in the same place at the same time on our trajectories elsewhere.
We roll on. As we get to the bottom of the hill, we can feel the wind against us. It’s only 7.30 am and SAM is up and moderately blowing a 15kph wind. I decide to keep going on the rail trail on the same route that we came up – this gets all of the westerly riding out of the way first so that we will only have a crosswind for the final bits of the ride.
As I ride across the flats into the wind, this song by Sia is in my head. Nigel has been in a fairly big bit of crisis lately. I’ve provided support in all the ways that I can. And this weekend, he is coming down to my place to go see Ford vs Ferrari on Saturday (he is a big-time Ford guy) and then go to a comedy festival at Brown Brothers, a local winery, on Sunday. I’m hoping he is feeling good enough to enjoy himself.
So as I’m thinking about this, the Sia song gets stuck in my head. Way back in 2007, this song really helped me when Nigel was very suicidal, incredibly unpredictable and saying very nasty things to me. At that time, I really had no idea what to do. I learned quickly not to take the awful things he said personally, but I felt very helpless and had no idea how to help him. Any time the phone rang or someone rang the doorbell, I was afraid it would be the police asking me to come and identify his body. I was trying to do my PhD at the time, a task that requires a whole lot of focus, so looking after a suicidal partner was a huge distraction and the stress could be overwhelming at times. The helplessness was exhausting.
Nigel has never been able to express his feelings – only raging, angry stuff comes out. So when I heard this song back then, it gave me solace. I knew this is what he would say if he could speak his heart.
Of course, back then, it was the days of dial-up, so you had to wait 15 minutes of interrupted download gigabytes and buffering to get the video. But once you had it, you could replay it without the annoying buffering. So once I had it, I would play it four or five times. Consequently, this song sticks in my head at times, and whenever Nigel is particularly unwell, it always comes back to me. (This version linked above wasn’t on the net at the time, but I think it’s the best one now available as it is so raw and vulnerable, particularly at the end).
I have since learned how to deal with his crises, how to keep myself from being swallowed by his crap (leaving him was absolutely crucial for this), how to help him the best I can without being or feeling helpless. I can help him from a healthy place these days. But I still feel sad for him and I’m thinking of him as I pedal home today.
We’re rolling into the drive right on 9am – a full 40 minutes quicker than yesterday’s 300 metres of climbing even though we had a headwind for much of the final 18 kms today. I am smart and don’t take the antibiotic bomb until I get home. This means I can just go lay down when the nausea and Herx reaction starts up.
So we FINALLY got our ageing frog picture – so mission accomplished. And, after nine months of feeling incredibly poor, we may finally be back on a positive trajectory of recovery or remission. I dream of long rides and wonder if maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to start increasing our distance and difficulty a little bit come autumn if we can kick this latest bug and get back to where we were last February. So far it’s: INSECTS 2 – EMILY 0. I’m ready to level the score. C’mon Zithromax!