99 kms (62 miles)
There are those moments when your heart catches in your throat. It’s a moment of panic, a moment of ‘oh shit’ realization that something’s gone wrong. The level of panic and the immediacy of reaction reflect the seriousness of the situation.
Luckily, I’ve not had too many of those moments in my life. But we had one on this ride where my heart was suddenly in my throat before it dropped to the depths of my stomach. There’s nothing like that feeling to spur you into action.
The day starts off with me making a run into work to finish off a couple things before we can go ride. The new job is full-on as we try to jump-start a bunch of projects halfway through the financial year that should have begun last July! I’m racking up the time-in-lieu at the moment, and it was touch-and-go whether I’d be able to get today off.
Emails sent, spreadsheets updated… I head home to gather the gear. I feel like crap. But the weather today is going to be sunny, 29C and only light winds. You have got to take advantage of a day like that. So I force myself to get on the bike, even though I’d really rather just lie around in bed.
My euphoria over the ‘return to health’ prognosis might have been a bit premature. The doctor stated that I should be able to begin rebuilding fitness after I complete the third and fourth rounds of antibiotics. I felt quite good for about 4 weeks. But in the week before I started the third round of antibiotics, all my symptoms started to return. Then the third round of antibiotics made me feel even worse. The insomnia returned. The week after that, the extreme reflux started in again, though the leg pain diminished. My super-dry, red eyes and troubles with digestion persisted throughout. I suppose this is progress? I’m only getting a couple symptoms really badly at one time instead of many?
The support groups for this disease all agree that bartonella is harder to get rid of than Lyme. Crap. Never mind. Just get out the door and go for a ride, woman!
And so we head off for Eldorado following roads we’ve ridden quite a few times now. Over the river. It’s running milk chocolate brown today – the Ovens valley did not burn, but several major tributaries did, so maybe it’s from run-off in the Buffalo and Buckland river catchments.
Then it’s over the creek (totally dry) on the little pedestrian bridge and on up through the super-dry paddocks.
It feels good to be out riding, but I really feel crap. Absolutely everything gives me reflux. Even bananas. And bananas are the safest snack ever. Even water. How can water cause reflux? The other problem is that the bad reflux is making my asthma terrible. It’s a thing. Google it.
Whenever I eat anything, my lungs get all tight and I go all wheezy. So I’ve got this dry, unproductive cough that occasionally gets some gunk. This is a very common symptom of bartonella (that I’ve had since March but no one clued onto until October). The bacteria irritate the stomach lining and cause the reflux which then causes the bronchospasm.
I ate early today, so that I would not need to eat while I rode, and so that the food would mostly be past my stomach before we started to pedal. I also took the antibiotic then. But still, as we ride across the barren paddocks, I wheeze, cough and belch. This is the sort of belching teenage boys do. I could get halfway through the alphabet if I tried. Fucking bartonella!!
Still, we ride. It is too beautiful of a day not to be out here. Traffic is light and mostly courteous. I get a chance to get the mailbox photo that was in the back of my head when I set myself the mailbox challenge this month. These are the days it is a joy to be alive, even when you don’t feel all that great.
Not too long after the mailbox, on our imminent approach to Eldorado, the crap feeling gets really crap. I get all cold and clammy. The reflux isn’t just that bit of acid that makes it into your throat from time to time. No, this is puking. On the side of the road, fertilizing some weeds. Yuck. All the liquid gone. I hope that’s not that dose of antibiotic, too.
50 metres later, a bit more weed fertilization. I have never puked straddling the bike before (I don’t think I’ve puked while riding very many times at all actually). But hey, it’s a skill I didn’t know I had. I’ve always been jealous of men when they needed to pee and didn’t need to dismount, but here is a gender equal skill.
We stop long enough in Eldorado for me to rinse my mouth out properly and brush my teeth. Minty fresh puke breath – riding is all about glitz and glamour, you know.
Today, our plan is to ride the Woolshed Road up through the Reidy Creek valley, then head up Malokoff Road to Beechworth. There is a small section of the Woolshed Road I’ve never ridden – between Niehoff’s Rd and the Reedy Creek Road. This road is always so wash-boarded that it is not very fun – but I want to see how bad it is before a cycle tourist comes this way in March or April. He’s very interested in the Ned Kelly history, and this valley has some sites related to that. So I want to see if the road is good enough to recommend as an alternative route to Beechworth. Plus, I get to mark off that little bit of road I haven’t ridden.
The sun angle says it’s late summer. The temperature is quite warm, but it’s not searing. We’ll have hot days right up through Anzac Day, but maybe we won’t see too many 40+ days from here forward. Everyone I’ve talked to says it feels like the autumn break (when the hot days end, and the foggy/rainy season starts) might actually come on time this year. It is usually right around Anzac Day on 25 April – and it’s like the weather gods throw a switch. One day the days are warm and dry and then all of a sudden, they are not! Last year, the autumn break came in late May, though there is some suggestion to say it never really came at all.
So I’m out here in that short window of time when it is not searing hot but not yet rainy. Our part of Oz gets a very short window of perfect weather in autumn, so even if you are taking antibiotics and puking, you’ve got to get out while you can.
We roll past the dredging dams among low, rocky hills. We wind our way up to the start of the gravel. The corrugations start right at the edge of the bitumen and are ferocious. If I weren’t clipped in, I would bounce off the pedals. Sheesh.
The road climbs up the side of the valley high above the creek. It is dry and dusty and the corrugations vibrate-y enough to hurt my forearms. Luckily, they ease up a little bit and I can avoid some. We twist and curve through the scrubby forest, looking down to the creek below. There has been so much mining activity here over the years that it is a heavily altered environment. Still, it’s an enjoyable ride… if only they would seal this one!
We bounce along. A car comes flying up the road from the other direction. They are not moving over into the corrugations on their side of the road. It forces me further left and further into corrugations. The car still flies by with less than a metre to spare. Sheesh.
Not far after this, I stop to take a picture of the road ahead. I haven’t gotten a ‘back of heads’ shot of the guys yet today. This will show what the road looks like, too.
And then my heart shoots into my throat, and then sinks to my stomach, and a wave of panic washes over in a tsunami of fear.
I’VE LOST KERMIT!!!!!!!
He has bounced out on one of the corrugations somewhere behind us. We’ve done three or four kms of corrugations. I’m not sure when I last looked down at him. I know he survived that first round, but after that, I’m not sure!
What if that car that just passed ran over him back there somewhere!!!!!
KERMITTTTTT!!!!!!!! (not said in a Fozzie Bear whine, but a deep, guttural Em panic).
We turn around and start riding back. I admonish Verne for not telling me. He says he was so in shock he was speechless. We’ve ridden more than 35,000 kms and never lost anyone before (though Kermit did almost fall out on the Breckenridge side of Independence Pass back in 2010). Then Verne couldn’t say anything because he was bouncing too much. And then he was just too scared.
I don’t have tears in my eyes. But I’m close. I’ve had Kermit since I was a kid. I am very attached to that little piece of fabric and fluff.
I scan the roadside as we go. I don’t know which way he would have fallen, but he is less camouflaged than Verne would be at least.
We keep riding. Oh Kermit, oh Kermit, where are you?
I am so scared that car will have smashed him. Oh Kermit!!!!
We round a corner, and there he is. He’s lying in the middle of the road. He is in the tyre track, but luckily, oh so luckily, that car has not smooshed him. His arm that he puts around Verne is still outstretched.
I lean down and grab him. He may have lost a bit of paint on his eyeball, but he is otherwise unscathed. He is not even dusty!!
He is not a happy frog. I give him some love and then he and Verne decide to have a handlebar bag break together in a pannier for a bit.
I am beyond relieved.
But I’m also fed up with everything all of a sudden. I hate this road. I hate the heat. I hate my body. I hate this ride. Let’s just go home! I feel like shit. My stomach is a burning pit of fire and is making me nauseous. My lungs are so tight I can hardly breathe.
BUT, I’ve ridden a lot of kilometres. I’ve been terrified a few times. I’ve sat out snow and freezing rain in the tent before. I’ve ridden through thunderstorms where I could see cloud-to-ground lightning around me in Wyoming. I survived a derecho event in a tent in Nebraska. I’ve talked my way out of uneasy situations with creepy men. I’ve ridden without food and water. I’ve inched myself up more than 40 mountain passes. I’ve come mere feet from being killed by a pick-up head-on in Montana. Yes, I have been through much worse, and that gives perspective.
So I stand there for a moment, crew intact and resting in the panniers. I could camp just down on the creek right here for the night. We could ride on and stop somewhere up the valley at any time. There are places to camp all along the valley if we don’t feel like riding up the steep back road to Beechworth. If we make it to Beechworth, we could just stay there for the night and have a gentle cruise back down the rail trail and on toward home in the morning. We’ve got options. We’re okay. Get your head back in the game, chick!
Once I’ve regained perspective, we head on. It really is a nice day. I see about 10 cars in total (I still think the volume of traffic and condition of road warrants sealing this one). Not long after wanting to quit and go home, the road improves dramatically. They’ve re-gravelled the section I have never ridden and it’s in quite good shape. It’s been done recently enough to be a pretty good ride. It goes crap again after Byrne Gully Road but it’s not nearly as bad as the bit back near Eldorado.
We have a stop in the shade not long before Malakoff Road. I am not eating anything, but I do drink some water. That is bad enough. We have got to get rid of this bartonella, because not being able to eat or drink and fuel yourself during the ride is a bit of an issue!
I can feel my quads and calves, but they aren’t terrible, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got the strength to get up the hill to Beechworth. This is the road we came down last overnight trip, so I know the gravel is okay. And besides, crap gravel going up is much better than crap gravel going down.
And so we climb up that gravel road in a step-wise fashion toward the top of the plateau. The guys get back in the handlebar bag, but man is Kermit ever hanging on to Verne!
We reach the bitumen. There are 8 percent or so grades to spin up in the heat of the afternoon, but I feel okay… all things considered! The nice thing is that this bit of the road has ‘steps’ in it, too. So there are a few short breaks of lesser grade to enjoy.
This also means I can get some pictures of the tannery for you, too. I did promise I would do this when I rode this road uphill sometime. The history is really fascinating. The tannery location is about halfway up the hill, too, so it’s a good spot to let the lungs and heart catch up.
Once we make it into town, I stop to get a photo of that impressive 400 metre tail race. Even this was not enough to drain the water from the mine workings upstream, so the Rocky Mountain Mining Company drilled a tunnel underneath the town instead!
I stop at the service station to get a cold drink. Just behind here is where they first discovered gold in February 1852. 8000 folks came up after that to find their fortunes.
I think I can handle some milk. I pack it in the pannier and then get a picture of the monument nearby. My challenge for the month is to get pics of interesting monuments, mailboxes and memorials. I’ve never noticed this one before – and I’m sure not many people do. It’s just kinda whacked between the new main road and where the old main road went. In 1954, when the monument was erected, maybe it was more of a focal point, but now, it isn’t really prominent at all.
We head up to the park so we can relax in the shade. My muscles will tell you that we have not hauled gear, even a very light overnight load, over 50 kms and up 8 percent grades much in recent times!
I get a photo of the old gaol along the way. It opened in 1864 and finally closed in 2004. The cells did not have running water until 1994! It was sold to a developer in 2005, but he had all sorts of problems trying to develop it because of the heritage overlay. When he finally gave up and sold it in 2016, a local group of people and non-profits bought it as they were very concerned about what might happen to it if it stayed in private hands. When I look at the list of the 49 stakeholders, I see about half a dozen people I know from my PhD days.
I don’t think they’ve finished the masterplan yet, nor has it created the spark they’d hoped quite yet, but I’m sure they’ll find a unified vision at some point. In the meantime, tours are available and all the Ned Kelly buffs can come and see where many Kelly family members, gang members and sympathisers were held at various times. Beechworth does have a very intact historic district with the old assay office, treasury, courthouse, post office, etc all available to tour/look at.
The guys and I enjoy a rest in the shade for a while. The milk stays down and only makes my breathing a little bit worse. It really is a gorgeous day to be alive. Not yet being the weekend means the town isn’t nutso either.
I did not have any firm plans for what the ride looked after Beechworth. I could stay at a caravan park tonight, then ride the main road up to Stanley (I’ve never ridden it – the easy way – to Stanley before). I could head down and take the Six Mile Road up to Stanley through the forest (I haven’t done that one before). I could just camp at the caravan park in town and take the rail trail down tomorrow. My legs are saying whatever happens, we should be done with climbing for the day! We’ve already done 470 metres of climbing – 260 metres of that in 5 kms – and that is enough at this level of health and fitness!
So after pondering the map for awhile, we decide we’ll head down to the start of the Six Mile Road. There’s some public land around there, and maybe we can find somewhere to camp down there. Then, in the morning, if I’m feeling better than today, we could climb to Stanley, then head down to Myrtleford and then back home via the rail trail. Or, we can do the easy way home and head down Buckland Gap (never ridden it before), a few new roads across the Murmungee Basin and then home.
So we head down the rail trail to Fighting Gully Road as the sun loses some of its bite in the late afternoon. We then head down through a forested reserve along Three-Mile Creek that was heavily sluiced back in the day by Mr Pund and his company. If you are interested in his story, you can find it here. It’s fascinating and talks a bit about how much environmental damage was done downstream from the sluicing done up here. It also describes the crazy lengths of races they built and how much water got moved around back in the day.
Library Road is a good one. I enjoy the trees and the views down into the creek. Then we pop out on the main road for a couple hundred metres before ducking off onto the Six Mile Road. A hundred metres or so in, there is a big log across an old track. Perfect!! We’ll just climb over that and find somewhere up there to get out of sight of the road.
The piles of rocks and amount of land that has been destroyed with the hydraulic sluicing is on an immense scale. Whole sections of hillside stand in 25-foot-tall fins of earth, as all the rest was blasted away. The scale is so huge!
I wander around a bit, but the tree regrowth makes it a bit difficult to see too far. The 2009 Beechworth fires started from a sagging powerline just up the road at the Library Road intersection where we popped out onto the main road, so it has burnt through here quite hot and quick. There is plenty of regrowth, blackened trunks and standing dead trees now!
We watch an echidna getting up and out for the evening for a few minutes. What a treat – I don’t see them all that often. In the video, its snout is off to the left and then top of the screen at the beginning before it heads off for a wander. This one is pretty big among the ones I’ve seen.
So amongst this flogged landscape and the rubbish of yesteryear, we plonk down the tent. I still have no appetite, my stomach is still a burning pit. I manage to get down some rice and raspberry gummy candy.
We’ve done 57 kilometres today – a bunch on gravel with 500 or so metres of climbing. It’s a respectable effort. I sleep well – even with only my riding shorts and shirt as a pillow. It never gets cold. The wind does pick up and I hope in my half-consciousness that it is a favourable one, or it’s going to be a long ride home.
I wake before the sun crests the hill. It is 6.30. Not long after, several dirt bikes congregate at the end of that path below. I don’t think they can see me. I can’t see them. A vehicle comes. Stops. More dirt bike noise. By the time I’ve packed up, they roar off up the road. Four of them.
Nope, I am not heading up there with all of them. My body suggests an easier day would be nice. So we do the final bit of climbing to Buckland Gap (the road up to the Murmungee lookout starts here – that’s a good one – I did it in May 2018 when I shouldn’t have been doing that much exertion).
Then we fly down the gap. I wouldn’t ride this road except in early morning or late evening as it carries a fair bit of impatient traffic. But right now we get a great run down on super smooth asphalt. It’s not even chip-seal! Woo-hoo! I feel a bit rusty in zinging the bike and me downhill with a load – but we still manage 61kph somewhere in the lower bit of the run (the lower curves aren’t as tight as the top). Fantastic!
We head on down the main road. A Pajero towing a boat passes me way too closely and way too fast. I flip him off. If you are going to pass me really closely, then slow down. If you are going to give me some room, then fine, keep your speed.
And then we head off on the no traffic roads of the basin. The sun has just crept above the Dingle Range and lights up the tree trunks orange. How I love early mornings on the bike. It is crisp and cool. The scent of eucalyptus mixed with hay permeates the air. There is little movement about. It is just after 7am and the basin is mine for a little bit longer. The coffee drinkers are probably missing this 😊
The geology here is quite interesting. The Dingle Range behind me is a mix of sedimentary rocks (siltstones, shales and mudstones) from the Ordovician that were regionally metamorphosed in the Benambran Orogeny. These older rocks form the southern and eastern part of the plateau that Beechworth sits on. In the late Devonian, there were quite a few granite intrusions in the region. That includes Mt Buffalo to the southeast and the Pilot Range (which we rode through yesterday) to the northwest. The northern and western side of the Beechworth Plateau is this same granite. (The intrusion of the granite into those Ordovician rocks is what caused all those rich mineral veins).
And down here, in this basin, well this is a granite intrusion, too. Only the relief is negative instead of positive. Yep, instead of a high blob of rock like Mt Buffalo, this blob of rock is sitting underneath all the rock that’s washed off the plateau around it. Negative relief plutons generally have a bunch of biotite in them. Biotite is quite erosive. The positive relief blobs like Mt Buffalo and the Pilot Range are quite felsic which resists erosion. And so, even though we are in a basin, we are still sitting right on top of the granite intrusion.
But why didn’t the surrounding plateau erode, too? This area really does look like a volcanic crater. Well, when that granite intruded those Ordovician rocks, they were hardened through contact metamorphism, so they are harder and resistant to erosion. So the basin has resistant Ordovician walls and an erosive Devonian granite floor (I think it’s covered by about 100-300 metres of alluvium).
This is what I love thinking about as I travel across the landscape.
We make our way across the basin and then head down Cemetery Road. It’s a bit corrugated and a bit crap, but not horrible. The views over to Mt Buffalo are nice.
I think I might head up this one road to get a closer look at an outcrop of granodiorite, but it is steep and eroded, so I’ll come another time on the mountain bike when I’ve got more energy to get off and push to the top, and the sun isn’t right in the way of the views.
I get to the end of Cemetery Lane and think I’ll have to ride up the main road a little bit to backtrack to a laneway to get me onto the rail trail. No worries, there is a wide shoulder here now. But never mind, there is no fence between the road and the rail trail, so I just carry the bike cross country and through a ditch and then up to the trail.
Then we fly east with the wind. I’m pedaling along at 27kph.
After a short stop at the next monument, it’s back to speed toward Everton. I pass a guy on a mountain bike with a bikepacking set-up, pedaling slowly into the wind. I get the feeling he would have liked to stop and chat, but I just zing past at 25 kph with a “helllooooo” (doppler effect, you see).
I stop for photos in Everton, and then keep taking advantage of that ESE tailwind. Blow me home, baby. If I were a late-start person, I’d likely get caught by that wind swinging to the south later, but I’ll be home before that happens. The plan today was to get home early, before I got hungry and needed to eat (because that is not a pleasant thing at the moment). That way I could take the antibiotic after getting home, too, since that makes everything feel even worse.
So on with the wind. About 10 kilometres from home, something gets into my shorts and stings/bites me. ARRRGH! Wow! That REALLY hurts! I reach up my shorts and smush/push out some sort of insect and continue on. Gender-equal pain management – neither sex needs to dismount to deal with insect bites on the inner thigh. The stinging goes away eventually (but the bite area gets very hard and super red with a ring of red greater than my outstretched hand the following day – which makes me think bee sting). Yay – my body’s immune system which has been so screwed up since the mozzie virus has had an appropriate response!
I’m glad I got out. I’m glad I got in some new roads. I’m happy with my muscular and cardiovascular response. It wasn’t pretty, but I haven’t really felt much PEM since the ride, which means I should be able to keep slowly, slowly building fitness. The bartonella looks like it may require stronger and longer rounds of antibiotics than I’d envisioned, but I do have hope I will still fully recover (get it and the ME/CFS into remission).
This weekend’s ride made me think of the lyrics of the stupid song that was really popular when I was travelling around Oz back in 1998. I have good memories of this stupid song because I associate it with hanging out with fellow backpackers. The English blokes loved this song (and Oasis, which is unforgiveable). The song makes me think about road tripping around Oz (albeit by bus, train and thumb). This song, an ear worm almost as bad as Safety Dance, kept going through my head yesterday after the puking and Kermit incidents.
But the crew remains intact to ride another ride. Kermit has made it very clear he gets to pick the route for the next ride though!