80 kms (50 miles)
No, the title is not a typo.
This ride involved a fair bit of Reedy Creek – dropping down to it, climbing back out of it into the Pilot Range, dropping back down to it at Eldorado and then a gradual climb back up to the plateau above it.
It was also the first ride of the rest of my life.
Yes, on Monday, the awesome Melbourne doctor gave me my life back. He was impressed with my body’s response to the antibiotics. He said I need to do two more rounds of them in February to make sure I’ve well and truly gotten rid of the bacterial infection.
After that, I am free to start living again. Originally, he said another 9-12 months of rest and a return to 85% of pre-illness capacity over the next 3-3.5 years. His re-evaluation on Monday upgraded me to FULL RECOVERY within a couple years. And I can start rebuilding fitness after the antibiotics. The doctor says he sees no reason I cannot do everything I did before the illness once again.
Of course, I will always have to be careful. ME/CFS isn’t something you ever get rid of once you’ve got it. But you can keep it tucked away in a remission of sorts if you are careful. And now that the bacterial infection isn’t weighing down my body’s efforts to heal from the West Nile virus, the doctor says my neuro-immune system should finish healing within a couple years.
So, Reedy, set, go! Life begins again, now!
At work, I’ve been working hard to finish up projects in less than a month that didn’t get completed in the six months before I took on the role. This has meant some early starts this week to ensure an EOI and RFQ got released on time.
But that means I can leave work early on Friday – which is a very nice thing because the weather is doing very nice things, too. It’s sunny, the winds are light and the high will only be 24C. After all the heat, it almost feels cool in the shade!
We do need to take advantage of this though. By the end of next week, the temps are forecast to be well over 100F once again. There’s a 43C in there on Friday. Yuck. Let’s go take advantage of this short temp reprieve!
I drive up to Beechworth around 2pm. I’m surprised it’s not too busy. It’s the Friday of the long Australia Day weekend. Maybe all the people from Melbourne just get up here later.
Never mind. I leave the car near the park one street back from the main road. And then we’re off to ride the scenic Gorge Drive. I haven’t been down this in six or seven years – the last time I think was when I was trying to seduce a potential PhD candidate to the university and was giving them a tour of the region.
Today, I’m on a quest to get some pictures of rocks and boulders for the cycle365 ‘challenge of the month’. I’ve been sidelined by heat and smoke most of the month, so it’s time to get in a submission for the challenge.
Beechworth sits up on a large granite plateau. The granite bubbled up from the mantle in the Devonian, never making it to the surface, but leaving a large batholith that intruded into the Ordovician siltstones and mudstones above it. Those intrusions mean the area is rich in mineral wealth and was the site of a gold rush in the late 1800s. To this day, people fossick Reedy Creek looking for gold and diamonds and other minerals.
The granite weathers in a way that is like peeling layers off an onion. This is, consequently, why the granite is often weathered into rounded boulders. Actually, we are riding around on one really, really big weathered rock this afternoon.
The scenic drive is a one-lane, one-way road. There is an exit point midway through, but it is not a difficult ride and well worth doing as a quick side trip if you are ever up this way. You descend for the first half of the ride to the gorge, then climb back out along the creek on the second half.
After our obligatory rock shots, the guys and I head up Malakoff Road. I’ve not ridden this section before, so it’s a chance to fill that in on the map. We rode up the lower half of this one back in August 2018, but turned off toward Flat Rock Road near the prison. This time we’ll fly down off the plateau and down to Reedy Creek.
I spin up the hill in granny or close to it. Then, at the top, I pause for a moment to take in the scene, and then we’re away. Unfortunately, I’m already rolling and not wanting to stop when I see all the remains of the old tannery strewn along the road off to the left. I must come back and take some pictures for you some time (when I’m going uphill, of course!). The remains are intriguing and its story quite impressive.
We roll off the plateau on the gravel road, easing our way down, heavy on the brakes. There is only one sorta steep bit leading to a creek crossing. If I knew there wouldn’t be any cars coming the other way on this narrow gravel, I’d just let the bike go. But… you know Murphy’s law.
We work our way on down to the creek. I go over to the falls since it is very close by. I don’t think I’ve ever been here in summer before. This is the same creek that we rode to in Eldorado the other day that was dry further down there. And it is pretty obvious why it is dry further down – there is not much going over the falls at all today.
I stop for a snack on a picnic bench and then we head downstream for a bit. My plan is to camp somewhere over in the Mt Pilot section of the park today. But instead of going the most direct route, I’m going to pick up a section of the Woolshed Road I’ve not ridden before. We’ve got heaps of daylight left, so it’s not a problem. It just means we cross over and ride up the other side of the creek to the main road instead.
The valley is peaceful and there are nice homes sitting in the cleared areas of the gentle slopes leading to the creek. Above the cleared paddocks rise the scrappy, boulder-strewn hills. It is pleasant and there is almost no traffic. The road condition is good. The road further down in the valley where all the people like to go prospecting in the national park is always terribly corrugated, but this bit is quite good.
We climb and descend a few gentle hills, but then we have a steep and switch-backed climb to get over a ridge that leads down to the creek. It is forested and in shade, but I can tell I haven’t been doing much climbing lately!
Once to the main road, we’ve got gentle climbing away from the creek back up into the hills. It’s only two or three kilometres and I take it slowly. Rebuilding fitness is not a fun job!
Luckily, all the cars that pass are going the other way, and I have no one pass from behind. Sometimes they get impatient and pass way too closely on this road.
Once I hit the boundary of the national park, I head off on McGuinness Road. The plan is to ride the Green Break track (it’s a fire break track) today. I’ve ridden most of the tracks within the park and it’s only the ones near the edges of this section that have remained unridden. So we’ll mark this one off today.
I don’t have any real preference for a camp site, but it’s getting on 6pm, so I’m ready to be done and relax for the evening. So we ride on for a bit until we see a fairly open area that looks pretty flat. That will do! I forego the first area I pick out as it is too ‘ant-y’. But there’s a good spot not far away that requires minimal stick and ground clutter removal.
Aaaaaahhhhhh… I love nothing better than a night in the tent.
There is a kookaburra in the distance in the pre-dawn. But there are no noisy members of the parrot family nearby. Aaaahhhh… I like this type of start to the day. I’ve slept well – only partially awakening when I needed to shift my head or hip through the night. When you only have a closed cell foam pad for a bed and a tshirt for a pillow, it’s a good thing when you can still sleep so well.
I’m up, tent packed, teeth brushed, bike loaded in 45 minutes. I pity the poor people who have to start the day with coffee. Life is so much easier and quicker without it.
I originally thought that I would ride up to Mt Pilot today first thing. But, I’ve been up there many times, and I am not certain what the day will bring, so I decide to give it a miss. I’ve shown you the view from up there quite a few times.
The Green Break track is not all that inspiring, but the descent to the creek and then up the other steep side out of it is a good and squirrelly, slip-slidey, almost-dumped-it, start to the day. Then it is just a gentle climb up to the Old Coach Road through different stages of regrowth from many different prescribed burns over the years.
We cross over the main road and then decide to use Gidley’s Track. We’ll meet back up with Old Coach Road a bit further on. Gidley’s will be a new one. It doesn’t look quite as steep as the main road on the topo map, and I have another ride mapped out for a future ride that will use that other bit of Old Coach Road.
So off we go. And let me tell you now: YOU DO NOT WANT TO RIDE GIDLEY’S TRACK.
I have been the guinea pig and done the re-con. The track is severely eroded and is not rideable. It would not even be fun on a proper dual suspension mountain bike. And because it is on granite, it is slippery as all hell on top of all that severe erosion, ditches and drop-offs.
The ride is not bad to start. I carry the bike around a fallen tree and then gently pedal our way up the hill.
I can see where we are going to have to get off and push… but I would have to push that degree of steepness regardless of fitness, so I’m not put out by that.
The top of the hill has nice views out to northwest. But then the track drops.
That’s okay to start.
But then it REALLY drops. Wow – it did not look like it would be this bad on the topo map!
I can no longer roll the bike forward with brakes on. It is way too steep and I can’t hold onto the bike.
Then it gets even steeper. So I ‘step’ the bike down the hill. I get the front wheel in a vertical erosion ditch and the back wheel in line with that. The bike is perpendicular to the fall of the track. I then pick up the front wheel and set it down a bit further down the track. I let the rear wheel slide its way there.
At times the hill is so steep, the panniers are sliding along on the rock and gravel. That’s not good, but I can’t really help it. The bike is quite light on this trip as I have very little gear, but gravity is still giving me a really good fight.
It takes 10 minutes to go 50 feet. Crap. My own feet are sliding all over the place on that slippery gravel overlaying the granite.
Then it gets steeper still. The track is down to the rock and there are 12-18 inch drops that I have to lift the bike down while still trying to stay on my feet. Another 10 minutes for another 50 feet. I’m sweating like you wouldn’t believe for 14C temps. This is HARD work.
Finally, I get to an old water bar and all of the gravel that’s washed off into the forest. That steep, slippery and eroded track continues on downhill, but I’m done with it.
I carry the bike downhill through the forest instead. My arm muscles have gotten quite flabby in the past 2.5 years… time to rebuild, I guess!
I venture back to the track to re-evaluate, but it is still too steep and slippery. So I continue on through the forest. At one point, I have to lower the bike down through a gully of sorts – stepping the bike down again in the same fashion, but this time with much more traction for my feet at least.
I finally get to a gentle section and can rejoin the track. It has taken me almost an hour to go one kilometre!!! I’m glad we didn’t spend time going up to Mt Pilot.
The rest of the track is still eroded and steep, but I can push/roll the bike up because there is leaf litter and sticks on the very side of the track that I can walk up to get traction. At times I’m pulling the bike up rather than pushing, but I make it up. Only a couple times can I not find any purchase and find myself sliding backwards with the bike. Oh… that is not a good feeling!
Finally, just toward the end of that section of track, it levels out a bit. There is a bee hive site and I’m relieved. That means the rest of the track should be rideable. No one would ever come the way we just came with a bunch of hives on the back of a ute.
We rejoin Old Coach Road. We haven’t ridden this section up to Reedy Creek Road before. It’s a long gentle climb on good gravel. The forest is quiet and it’s just me, the guys and the bike. Aaaaahhhhh.
This section of the park has a fair number of tracks on the Reedy Creek side that I haven’t ridden – mostly because they drop steeply to the valley below and would not be much fun. There are a couple that look like I could ride most of them and only have to walk short bits, but I hadn’t planned on checking them out today. I figured the loop I end up doing today would be enough for my body at this point… and that was before I knew about the obstacle course that was Gidley’s Track!
So today we just head on up Old Coach Road – one we’ve done quite a few times before. We did part of this one quite recently when we did the overnight on South Triangle Road.
Still, early morning and not hot makes for a nice ride. We eventually traverse the range and then fling ourselves out on the downhill to the Eldorado-Byawatha Road. That far end of Old Coach Road is getting in worse and worse shape – it’s rough enough I probably won’t head up or down that way for awhile.
I stop off at the dredge and have a short chat with an English couple that have lived in Australia for 40 years. They were holidaying in East Gippsland but got chased out by the fires and are currently staying in Eldorado for a few nights. They are out exploring. Oh, how I love baby boomers and their accumulated wealth that no generation to follow will ever know! They can’t quite comprehend where I’ve been or that you can just sleep somewhere random in the forest overnight, but I think they got the basics “just a loop out of Beechworth”.
I stop for food in Eldorado. We were just here last weekend. The woman is on the phone with a friend as I peruse the milk case. I really don’t want “Triple Shot” of anything and I don’t really like strawberry. The woman is telling her friend (I think these people just bought the pub late last year) that they are just barely hanging on and she can’t wait to retire. Not a good sign. Last weekend, they looked pretty full up for lunch and today I’ll see at least 8 cars heading that way in time for a 12 or 12.30 lunch, but I suppose just a couple full-up meals on weekends isn’t enough to pay the bills. They’ve probably also lost much of their January trade with all the smoke and heat, too.
My milk is $4.20 – if they’d had some hot food other than pie warmer sausage rolls, I would’ve ordered something. But the milk is my best contribution today. Don’t worry, though, Eldorado is a nice ride from home and something I’ll do often in cooler months, so I’ll keep contributing. I’ll try to organize to meet a friend for lunch here sometime, too.
I eat some salmon, cheese and a few crackers. I refill my water bottles and then wet down my shirt. There are more interesting ways to get to Beechworth, but I’m just going to take the gentle option and ride the rail trail back up onto the plateau. I’m pretty sure that 80 kms – more than half of that on gravel (or carrying the bike through the forest) – is enough for my body right now. I don’t want to suppress the immune system with too much activity and allow any remaining bartonella bacteria the chance to take advantage of that before I do the next two rounds of antibiotics.
So I head out through the dry and brown paddocks toward the rail trail. The sky is clear today. The Abbeyard fire still burns down to the south, but the sky above today is not pink and grey. Instead it looks just like someone has tried to erase pencil marks and left smudges of grey here and there. That’s a good sign. What a joy it is to be able to breathe and see the mountains again.
Once I get back to the rail trail, it’s a very familiar ride. I’ve ridden up to Beechworth at least 10 times – and ridden down the trail once. It’s getting on noon, and I usually do this as early as I can. Partway up the trail, I do remember riding this one at mid-day once in 2015 – only that day I had ridden from Corowa and was going further than Beechworth! We’ll get back to that distance and difficulty, though, and I can’t wait!
The one good thing about the rail trail climb to Beechworth is that it is a fairly steady and easy gradient, so you just get into a groove and comfortable cadence and just keep that up for 15 kms.
Just at the Everton station, I pass a tourist group going the other way. They are all on bright orange mountain bikes and all 15 of them combined have the skills of one novice cyclist. They are wobbly and have no idea what to do when someone is coming the other way. I am on the very edge of the trail – because, at this point in my cycling career I am not wobbly even with a load – but I’ll be damned if I have to get off in the gravel because someone can’t move over to the other side. I’m convinced the oncoming young woman has no idea how to use the brakes either. I’ve applied mine and am almost stopped. Luckily, her friend next to her moves off on the gravel and the wobbly woman can move over. She smiles at me apologetically as we pass.
As I proceed up the trail, I come across a lot (10-12) of other wobbly bikers – those ones on those orange rental bikes are a real safety hazard! It is good to see the trail being so well-used though. I pass 27 people all up going the other way, and two guys on mountain bikes catch me up on their way back from the Flame Trees trail.
I am surprised at how many people slow down and pull over and are afraid to keep going when someone is coming the other way. I know I LOOK wide with panniers on, but I get right over to the edge of the trail and take up less than half the path.
Oh well, if your skills are such that you have to stop on a downhill because you need more than half the path, that is your problem, not mine!! I’ve got a good grove going up the hill and you are more than welcome to whizz past me going downhill – wouldn’t bother me a bit!
I am most happy to say that the worst of the fly season has passed. I don’t have any bothering me on a hot, uphill, mid-day climb today. Oh, there is one about here or there, but nothing troublesome. Contrast that to the ride up I did back in December where they just swarmed you when you came out of the forest.
I roll on into town. Interestingly, in almost the exact same spot as last month, when the woman scowled at me because she had to pull her dogs off the trail, I encounter another asshole. This time it’s a Melbourne-hipster looking guy with a beard who is walking with his girlfriend. He’s carrying a bottle of wine and a snooty-looking handbag. He refuses to move over on the trail. He and the girlfriend are taking up three-quarters of it. I am a sweaty, stinky, middle-aged chick who’s fought illness for 2.5 years. I have done more than 30,000 kilometres of touring. I am not intimidated by a 30-something-year-old man with a handbag. Yes, I know about cyclists giving way to pedestrians and horses. And I am very good about that. But not when you are deliberately taking up more than your share of the path.
So I just keep heading straight toward him. I am on the edge of the path – again taking up less than half of its width. I pull my feet out of the clips just in case we collide. He is peering right at me.
Oh, goodness, I haven’t played a game of chicken since I was a kid. Hehehehehe… I speed up. If I’m going to hit him, at least I’ll hit him hard. As we close in, he starts to smirk, but his girlfriend grabs his arm and pulls him over to their side of the trail. I don’t hit him, but I’m pretty sure I would have given him a waft of Gidley’s Track sweaty stink on my way past 😊
My plan is to turn onto a side road at the ice cream shop to avoid all the busyness of the main road. But there are 3 cars backed up on each side of that road waiting to turn out, two cars approaching from behind me, and four cars heading the other direction. Nup, that’s a cluster-fuck of an intersection, no way I’m getting over to make that turn.
So I head on up to the main street up the hill. I take the lane, so I don’t cream any pedestrians stepping out from behind cars. The vehicles behind don’t seem to mind. They can’t really go any faster than me anyway. I get to the main roundabout on Ford Street. There are cars backed up IN the roundabout – cars backed up waiting for those cars, etc. Anyone worried about the Melbourne folks staying away the rest of the season have nothing to fear. The town is PACKED OUT.
All that roundabout action allows me to sail straight on through, though. I roll on to Loch Street and then head down to the car. It is less busy down that way (too far for fat people to walk, I guess).
I pull the bike apart and get everything packed up. Yes, that 80kms plus obstacle course is enough for a body that hasn’t done much in a very long time. I don’t feel bad, but I know my muscles will ache tomorrow. I’m tired, but in a good way.
I go across to the park. I specifically parked here because I remembered that the park has a bunch of spigots good for washing bike grease off your legs and rinsing off in general. Unfortunately, there are people sitting next to a bunch of them. I finally find one and cup my hands under to give my head and face a good rinse. I wash my legs off.
I’m about to take off my shirt (there are heaps of people around, but I have no shame), wet it down and then use it to rinse off my arms, when a cyclist rolls up. He is wanting to fill his water bottle. I step back (there is another spigot available nearby) and tell him to go for it.
I ask where he has ridden from. He is from Melbourne. He took the train to Wodonga and has ridden here from there. He is meeting his wife and friend here, as they’ve driven up from Melbourne. He’ll throw the bike in the back and then they are heading to another friend’s home near Glenrowan for the night.
I ask if the road was busy (Beechworth-Wodonga Rd is always busy and pretty narrow – I would never ride it). He said it was, but it was all the uphill (it is uphill the whole way) that really did him in. He is 58 and not very fast anymore.
I tell him, “well done, you’ve done a great job to get here by now (I actually have no idea when the train got in).”
He asks where I’ve ridden. I say, “Oh, I just left the car here last night, rode down into the national park, camped for the night and then came back up via the rail trail today.”
He says, “where was the campsite?”
I reply, “oh, I just camp off in the forest, nowhere in particular.”
His eyes widen. He says, “By yourself? On the bike?”
When most of your friends do things a lot more outdoorsy and adventurous than you, and when they don’t bat an eye about the stuff you do, it is always a funny reminder that most people do not do such things.
I say, “Yes. I’ve got good gear and I’ve done a lot of touring solo, so it’s fine.”
He says, “That seems like a big ride.”
I reply, “Oh. No. That was really short. But I’ve been quite unwell for a couple years now, and I ONLY just got the doctor approval to start doing any sort of rides again on Monday. So it was meant to be easy.”
He replies, “Oh, wow! That is inspiring. What was wrong?”
I reply, “I had a mosquito virus that really knocked me around for a long time, and then I got a bacterial infection on top of that. So this was my first ride where I could push myself and not worry about setting myself back.”
He says, “That is just so amazing. Solo woman bush-camping and coming back from an injury to do such a hard ride (he really has no clue where I’ve been in the past 24 hours or how hard it was or wasn’t). You are so inspiring.”
I say, “Oh, no. I’m just a cyclist like you. And we just take every chance we can to get on the bike. Not many of your friends would’ve been taking the train so they could ride somewhere as part of their holiday this weekend!”
With that, I excuse myself, so I can go get a cold drink. I’m not as spigot-cleaned as I would have liked, but I’ll be home for a shower soon enough.
Back on Monday, at the doctor’s office, the doctor inquired about what a normal weekend on the bicycle looked like for me. Was I sprinter? A competitor, etc? What speed and distance did I average before I got sick?
When I explained the details to him, he paused for a moment, and then said, in a halting and almost questioning manner, “Well, I think that would be a good goal to aim for again. Do you think that would be something you would like to aim for?”
Did he really just question whether that would be a suitable goal? Are there people who DON’T want to regain the life they had before? Are there people that shy away from physical goals after being struck down with a serious virus or ME/CFS?
On Monday, I just said, “Oh yes! Of course!”
Really, all I’ve been waiting for, since July 2017 is for someone with a good understanding of my health issues to say, “Reedy, Set, GO!”