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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!!