Eclipse – December Ride 2 – Not quite the tradition

25 December 2019

55 kilometres (34 miles)


I have a tradition. It’s a one-day-a-year tradition. It’s something I look forward to each year. It is a Christmas Day gift. You see, while everyone else is inside celebrating Santa in the morning on Christmas Day, they leave the roads very empty. For an atheist with no family within many thousands of kilometres, it is a great gift. It means I can ride narrow, shoulderless roads that are normally too busy to consider.

I have the ride mapped out for this year’s traditional Christmas morning excursion. However, Nature doesn’t really care about 2000 years of history and virgin births and Christmas trees or about my plans for pedaling. Nature could not care less about the conditions for my ride. It just does what it does. And what it’s doing this year is not favourable to tradition.

The day dawns very smoky. The fires aren’t near here. The smoke is blowing in from fires terrorizing people in places hundreds of kilometres away. But it is too smoky to go ride – well, at least for an asthmatic trying to be gentle to a body still recovering from two insect-borne infections. I’m not supposed to be stressing my body at all.

So I hang out in the morning and wait for the smoke to lift enough that I won’t be wheezy for the ride duration. It does mean I can’t do my planned ride on busy roads, and it does mean it’s going to be pretty hot while I pedal. Still, at a forecast 36C, it is the coolest day in the forecast for the next 5 days and the coolest day in the past ten.  I suppose one thing that touring has taught me is the flexibility to change plans and accommodate those things you can’t control.

The guys and I head out about 11.30am. It’s about 29C, so I wet my shirt down before we head out. I am still overheating easily, but thankfully, the recurring fevers have been remedied by the antibiotics.

There are a few cars on the road toward the river. The traffic will pick up as the day goes on and everyone does the family and in-law rounds after morning present-opening at home.

The haze is still thick and present. But that pink-grey sky is keeping the temps down and the sun away – like a day of high cloud. We pedal across the flats – the dull sky overseeing crispy, brown paddocks suffering through another hot summer. A few leaves twitch in a moment’s breeze, but mostly, the air is just still, heavy and oppressive.

I roll down to the river. No one is camping here yet, but there are some locals cooling off in the water. I head down to the water and narrowly avoid getting wet dog all over me as a pooch approaches and shakes off the excess. There’s a guy and his wife in their 30s watching their daughters jumping off a log. I peel off my shirt – it is already dry only 9 kms from home – and tiptoe into a few cms of water. I reach out as far as I can and dunk my shirt in. I pull it back out with mud and moss in a few places. I flick as much off as I can, wring the shirt once, and look over to see the guy down there watching me. Ha! I do have a better body than his wife, but tiny tits and wide hips is hardly something worth looking at!

I slip the cool shirt back on and head back to the bike. This is the theme for the day. Anywhere there is water accessible, I wet down my shirt. The guys and I head back out through the deafening chorus of cicadas – the pissed frog and turtle angry with me that we didn’t stop to float. They don’t care that there were dogs and children around which are very dangerous for my little stuffed creatures!

We roll over the bridge, through the silent lifestyle blocks on the outskirts of Tarrawingee, and then through town itself. We then head up a new road – Pryse Road. If I can’t ride a busy road, I’m going to knock off several new, small ones instead!

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Rolling along Pryse Road.

The landscape is lifeless except for a few herds of cattle here and there seeking shade. It is quiet except for the flies around my head. The flies, though obnoxious, are somewhat subdued today, too. Maybe with all this early extreme heat, their season will finish early this year.

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Allans Lane. It’s as pleasant out there as it looks.
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Interesting. I would like to know the story that led to the man affixing the sign next to the video surveillance sign that says “NO LIARS”. I could understand “NO THIEVES”, but the chosen text would have a good story.

I pedal on through all the drab paddocks – picking up new roads. Some are better than others – as I’ve whinged before, Wang Council has a fair number of crappy gravel roads. But I persist. I stop on occasion in shady spots for a drink of water. I started the day with a frozen 1.5 litre bottle and it is melting at just the right rate to keep the water cold but always have enough to quench my thirst.

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Lyons Road.
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Wightons Road. Drink stop in the shade.
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Curran Road. The line of trees ahead denotes the course of Reedy Creek.

We eventually meet up with the paved road to Eldorado. We ride over Reedy Creek – just a series of small, stagnant pools down this far. We ride our first of two hills today – the incline up the freeway overpass. We then connect up with the rail trail and head into Wangaratta.

I stop at Apex Park. There are a couple grey nomads having a break in the shade, but no one else is around. I peel off my shirt and wet it down under a tap. Ah, that feels good! And you know, I feel pretty good, too. Oh, it’s hot – up to 32C now – but it’s quite bearable. Most importantly, those two rounds of antibiotics have shown MAJOR improvements. My goodness, I knew I had felt crappy for the past 9 months, but I guess I had gotten used to it in a way. It is amazing how wonderful it is to feel decent!! I have good amounts of energy back, my sleep is better and I feel like I’ve rejoined the land of the living. I am still far from well – the antibiotics don’t cure ME/CFS – but I am definitely back to the level of energy I had back in March before I was taken down by Mr Bartonella.

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New addition to Apex Park. This park is the start of the rail trail to Bright, has a nice playground, picnic area and performance/market shelter. It fronts the Ovens River but has no good foreshore access like Albury does to the Murray River. This rock sculpture work is in a little-used part of the park.

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A while ago, my mom asked if I could send some photos of the area I live now. She and my Dad have visited Wangaratta briefly in 2011 when I gave them a whirlwind tour of Victoria. But they wouldn’t remember this town much as we were just there for one evening.

So, since I couldn’t do a busy roads ride today, I thought I would come in and take some pictures of the town where I now work. Usually there is a lot of traffic and people that would make it a bit difficult to take pics, so the empty streets today are conducive. Lest you think it is a dying town, be assured it is a very busy place normally. It has a good population growth rate and is in no danger of withering away.

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New-ish pedestrian bridge over the Ovens River near downtown. There’s a popular swimming spot up there. They’ve extended the bike path so you can hook up with the bike path that follows the river near Norm Minns Oval and the aquatic centre. I’ll show you that another day.

So here is a little tour of some of the buildings of the civic core of Wangaratta – a town of about 25,000. It is about 2.5-3 hours northeast of Melbourne and about 45 minutes from Albury-Wodonga where Nigel and I have lived since 2004.

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They’ve done a lot of work to connect the river to Faithfull Street. There is a path down below that runs along the river and this high path that runs behind the businesses. There are several new cafes along this stretch now. This one here, is quite popular. To the left is one of the original bridges that links town to the Apex Park I just showed you.
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Diagonally across the intersection, one block back from the main street is this nice, shady park. There is a toilet block, picnic shelter and playground off to the right.
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This roundabout, with a long-defunct fountain, is one block back from the main street. The park I just showed you is off to the right. The road heading past the petrol station is the main road heading west that takes you out to all the suburbs. The building over there has a nice coffee shop, a natural foods store, a massage place and something else. Just beyond it is the supermarket. Further up the road to the left is where I work.
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This is the road leading up from the previous roundabout to the main street. It’s hard to show what it’s like – but all the shops are full and there are always plenty of people about.
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Building on the same street as previous. It’s now a chain solicitor business. The buildings are a mix of ages from the early 1900s to 1970s.
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This is the main intersection in town and one of only three sets of traffic lights in town. This is looking north. The businesses on this main road go for about three blocks. Businesses go about a block deep on each side and then along the roads one block off the main one.
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One of the old pubs on the main street. I think there are 5-6 old pubs along the main street and nearby.
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Looking south down the main street.
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The old post office and telegraph station. Don’t know what is in there now. The post office is now a tiny shopfront in a non-descript building down the main road.
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Shot for Ol’ Grumble Face – can you see me in the selfie?
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Bird mural in the alleyway that leads to an art gallery.
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Original library – well, there was one on this site before this one – but this one is from around 1900. It is now the info centre.
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Another shot from the main intersection – an old Gothic-style pub that is no longer a pub. There’s an optometrist in the corner shop – not sure what else.
Down at the end of the main street, they’ve turned an old, dis-used toilet block into a bike hub. There are several shower rooms, bike lockers and a bike maintenance stand. When it was built in 2015, I was told it was good and clean, etc. But I was just told now that homeless people are sleeping in the bike lockers… The showers looked acceptable, but I’m not so sure this will be my commuting option once I’m given the all-clear to do 40 kms of riding and a full day of work all in one day.
Bike locker and bike stand area. That wouldn’t be a nice before-work surprise to open one and find someone inside! There are gates with locks to close off this area, so maybe they do that now?
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Looking down into Merriwa Park from the bike hub. There are a bunch of tennis courts, an amphitheatre and plenty of grassed space in this park. The King River runs just alongside, on the other side of a levee, and there are some walking paths through the floodplain.
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Down a block from the bike hub, past the Catholic Church, and back on that street that had the park, is the convention centre. It was built in 2009 after they tore down the original town hall on the site. The spired building next door is the old Presbyterian Church and now holds the art gallery.
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Across the street from the convention centre (off to the right in this photo) is the government building where I work. The original, tall bit was built in 1980. Don’t know when the new bit was added. The inside is functional but definitely nothing special.
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Close-up of the government centre. The local Council offices are here, as well as the driver’s licence place and several state government depts like mine. We share the third floor with a non-profit health provider.
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On the same corner is the War Memorial and beyond that, this cathedral. It’s the Anglicans’ Holy Trinity Cathedral. Google it for more info. It is an imposing structure, much more so than the Catholic Church. It was built in about 1904 I think. This diocese is quite progressive, much to the angst of the big city people in charge.
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I think the side of the building is even more impressive than the front. Please note the little tree in the foreground and see next pic.
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This poor scraggly tree is right out the front of the cathedral. I walk by it each day and laughed when I saw this attempt at decorating it. I thought: “oh my, they have recognised it as the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree and decorated it accordingly!”
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Further down the road from the cathedral on the way to the train station is the current library. I don’t know what the building was originally used for.
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Next to the library is the TAFE college (please note I finally found some flags!). It stretches for about a block. TAFE is a vocational college run by the state. There is another campus for horticulture and horse stuff on the edge of town.
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One of the nice, old homes across the street from the TAFE.
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Looking down at the train station from the southern pedestrian overpass. The original water tower off to the left is from 1874. The train line from Melbourne got to Wang in 1873 and connected through to Albury and on to Sydney in the early 1880s.
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The pub on the ‘other’ side of the tracks. Nice art deco design. I’ve never heard about this one before.
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The public hospital. It’s the original building in the centre and then been added onto many times on both ends. This street has lots of various medical practices along it. The original hospital was built on the same site in 1872. It now has around 220 beds and gets a $22 million revamp next year that will add more critical care beds and updated maternity wards.

After the photos of the downtown area and hospital, I head down the One-mile Creek bike path. It’s been around a long time and follows a creek toward the southeast. It passes through the edge of the ‘crappy’ area of town – lots of small, mid-century homes and public housing – and connects up some of the parks. It’s a pleasant ride with the forested creek on one side and the edges of the neighbourhoods on the other. I’m really envious of all the little dirt jumps and paths that follow alongside – those would all be so fun!

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The green signs will direct you out to Milawa – or towards Myrtleford if heading out of town the other way.
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The One- Mile Creek bike path has varying amounts of lushness and open bits – but a lot of it is like this.

As I get toward the end of the path, before I need to head up Cribbes Road to grab the bike path toward Oxley, I head across the creek (dry by the way) to the Mitchell Avenue Park. It has a nice playground area with a flying fox and a recently-built splash park. The location of the splash park and its replacement of a pool was subject to a lot of controversy. Then, once built, its design caused some injuries and torn clothing with the rock mountain and concrete slide not quite conducive to small kiddos and hot, sunny days. I actually thought it was still closed as they fixed the problems, but no, there are plenty of kids splashing away and running around. (Those rocks on the ‘mountain’ still look hot! – but no photos since there are kids all around). So instead of having to wet down my shirt in a toilet block sink, I can just go hold it under a mushroom fountain for a minute.

Cooled off again – still about 34C – I head out of town. The bike path follows the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road and is a great asset. That road is very narrow and quite busy, so I wouldn’t ride it without the path. Today though, the traffic is light, so when I get to the freeway overpass (hill number 2 and final hill for the day), I diverge from the trail and just ride on the road over the freeway bridge.  It cuts off a kilometre of riding as the bike track heads north up to the river and then goes under the freeway at the river bridge before heading back south to meet the Wang-Whitfield Road again.

It’s hot now as the smoke has lifted further. You can see blue in the sky overhead, though the smoke haze is still there at ground level in the distance. It’s 3pm and the sun is still high in the sky – a blistering presence too early this year. Temps of 43C in mid-December are just a month too early for that sort of crap, I reckon! Don’t ask our Prime Minister about climate change and bushfires though – God’s onto it, apparently. We just need to pray more.

The bike path takes us past bright green grapes as we come up to the Snow Road intersection. I turn toward Oxley and follow the path down into the river flats of the King River. There’s plenty of traffic out now as everyone heads somewhere to celebrate the summer holidays. I am amazed at the number of caravans heading for the hills. The temps will be back into the 40s by the weekend, the smoke shows no signs of going away, and the fire danger is high. Why anyone would want to go camp in the bush in those conditions with the deafening cicadas and bazillions of sticky flies is beyond me!!

I roll over the river and up to the general store. The new owners took over 18 months or so ago, and I am excited that they are open today. The new owners are Indian and offer a variety of curries in addition to the standard hamburgers and fish n’ chips. I haven’t eaten here yet, but I am hoping that today starts another new tradition of a 25 Dec Christmas-Day curry. But alas, they aren’t doing curry or other cooked stuff today, just warmed-up meat pies. So I get a cold milk instead.

The owner comes out as I’m getting back on the bike. He’s impressed that I’m out riding and we have a short chat before I head back to the river to drink a cold refreshment and give the guys a float. There are no kids or dogs around, and the guys have had to sweat it out in the handlebar bag through the numerous times I’ve been able to wet down my shirt. They are very happy to get out on the water for a bit.

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Ahhhh… finally a float. They were really disappointed not to get to frolic at the splash park. There was nowhere to float there, though.

Then we head the four kilometres to home. We put down 55kms, and though I can tell how out-of-shape I am, and how much muscle mass I’ve lost, I still feel good. Thank goodness we’ve got at least another month of stupidly hot temps to endure. It means I won’t over-do things too much as I get excited to have some energy back!

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The shops at Milawa. The village is really just one main intersection of stuff with other stuff strung out along the roads. These shops are on the SOUTHWEST corner. The smokehouse does all sorts of smoked meats and the general store does good burgers (not frozen patties).
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On the NORTHWEST corner of the main intersection is the pub. Off to the left is a small caravan park. The road behind me heads out to Brown Brothers about 300 metres away – one of Victoria’s most famous wineries. The road going north is where I live. Out that road is also the CFA fire shed, homes on lifestyle blocks and 500 metres or so north is the primary school. Further out is the Cheese Factory and the mustard shop.
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On the NORTHEAST corner of the main intersection is the Old Emu Inn – currently for sale. It dates back to the 1860s. Off to the right 100 metres or less down the Snow Road is a little complex that houses the bakery and chemist. Across from that is a small post office. There is a small motel down there, too. And that is Milawa.

This will be the last ‘long’ ride of 2019 – temps will be quite hot right through the end of the year, and I would like to use this time to get ahead on my online coursework. It is better to be inside working on this now while it’s 40-something degrees than in April when there are good days for riding.

Watch out 2020 – after 9 months of feeling like shit in 2019 – I am on my way back!!

10 thoughts on “Eclipse – December Ride 2 – Not quite the tradition

  • Awesome ride and fab photos. I loved seeing more of the buildings and having the guided tour! Also very excited for you that you’re feeling so much better. Keep going!!
    I’m having a couple of days off after about 6 weeks of 50-60 hours a week on the thesis. Looking forward to getting through the next 6 weeks in similar style and having a strong complete draft first week of Feb. End is in sight!
    We’ve been talking about a week of cycling and camping, maybe catching the train to Albury or similar. Depending on my finish date, weather etc. I’ll need to hit you up for some route/camping suggestions closer to time, should the stars align to make it possible! Maybe we can even partake of a cup of tea 😀.
    Cheers, Catherine
    BTW, what’s the course are you doing?

    • Oh, you are definitely to the business end of that PhD! I remember that crazy time… the nights you stay up til 2 or 3am when you are on a writing roll and the days when it is frustratingly hard to see how it all fits together. Hang in there – you are getting so close! I remember someone (who had never done a PhD) saying, just as I submitted the thesis, “You must be so excited!”. Nope – I was just relieved! I didn’t have enough energy to be excited. The excitement came when I got the examiner comments back and had 2 “no changes” and only 1 “minor changes” which I could fix up within a week. THEN I was excited! So all the best as you push through the final bits!
      Yes, please let me know if you are heading down this way. There are plenty of places to tour depending on what you are wanting to do. I’m happy to help in any way I can. I have a bike rack for two bikes now, so I could transport you to/from start/finish points if needed, too.
      The course I’m doing is just a double diploma of Project Management and Leadership & Management. My new job is a project mgmt job, and all the job ads I’d been gravitating toward over the past year were similar positions. So I thought it would be good to get some formal tips on how to do such a job better. The coursework is easy, of course, but it is very practical and I’m already finding it useful and applicable to the work I’m doing now. I used my tax refund to pay for it and have two years to complete it. It also gets me a certification with one of the leading industry bodies. (And maybe I am just addicted to learning – though I will say I didn’t read ANYTHING or want to learn anything for a good year after the PhD finished!). All the best to you!

      • On the road again!! Happy to hear you are feeling better. Hope 2020 is better to you than 2019.

      • Thanks, Terry. What sort of huge total did you end up with for your mileage this year? Yep, I’m hoping the late-year upward health trend continues in 2020. I can’t believe how crappy I was feeling – until I felt the difference after the antibiotics! All the best to you in 2020 – are you going for 6,000 miles?

      • Brilliant thesis examination results – you legend! If I get anything close to that I will be crazy happy!
        Enjoy the course. It is excellent doing something that feels immediately relevant.
        Back to the desk tomorrow for me. Malcolm’s planning trips to the beach and catching up with friends. Wah!!! Soon that will be me 😵😜🤪.
        Take care and happy continued healing.

  • It looks like Christmas Day was a heavy, hot day from your pictures. Good to see the sights of Wangaratta – I like the town. But best of all – so good to hear you are feeling healthy. What a great thing to end 2019 with. All the best for 2020.

    • Yes, the weather has not been very nice since about the 15th and doesn’t look good through at least next Saturday. Hopefully it will mean good weather by the time you come up to ride the trails though. I still like Albury better than Wang, but maybe Wang will grow on me. And yes, it is nice to feel better – I can’t believe how bad I was feeling until I was reminded what life could be like after the antibiotics! Now if only I can get the ME/CFS into remission in 2020 – I won’t know myself! I hope you are finishing off the final few kms of your goal in the dying days of 2019. All the best to you and Sue.

  • Hi Em,
    Thanks for the latest ride write-up and pictures. Seeing Wangaratta again was quite interesting, though I’ll admit I don’t remember all of the details from 2011. You and the crew always seem to have a good time on the road, especially when the boys can enjoy some “habitat”. Your tradition is a great way to spend a Christmas Day. Thanks for sharing, Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad. I wouldn’t expect you to remember much of Wang as we got there in the evening and then left pretty early the next day to see the King Valley (and get that photo of us at the lookout that you put on the wood for me). Wang would have looked similar to a bunch of the small towns we went through on that trip. At this point, I’m not quite sure what I would do without the crew – they are very much part of the ride these days.

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