78 kms (48 miles)
It’s Easter Sunday. A public holiday. A long weekend. My dad always said we were not allowed to get hurt on holiday weekends, because under no circumstances was he going to take us to the emergency room in a busy period like that.
So, it’s a good thing my Dad is not here then, for my first trip to an emergency room in Oz.
After noticing how dead quiet the roads were on Good Friday when I went out to ride, I immediately made plans to ride some roads on Easter Sunday that are normally too busy to be safe. Normally, Easter weekend is absolutely nuts in this area with tourists, and I tend to stay off ALL the roads, not just the busy ones. But, it turns out Aussies are a pretty compliant bunch, and everyone is taking the Stay-At-Home orders seriously, and the tourists are pretty much absent. It’s the best Easter for riding in the history of North East Victoria.
With a forecast of sun, light-moderate winds, and a high of 20C, I’m excited to head out in the morning. I manage to ride 16 kms up the Snow Road before a car overtakes from behind. I only see 4 or 5 cars going the other way. I ride up the wide valley flats among the growing sea of green. The early rains this year have greened up the landscape a full month early.
Low hills edge closer to the road as we head further up the Ovens Valley, and as we close in on Whorouly, we have to ride over the very ends of the spurs. One night back in January, after the Abbeyard fire made a run at Carboor, the winds picked up which wasn’t forecasted. There were embers landing in this area that night, but no further fires broke out. 16 kms further west, my car was covered in ash the next morning.
There are no fire scars in view from anywhere I ride today, though the fire perimeter in the Buffalo Valley won’t be too distant from parts of the ride later. Given all of the major news of the virus, the cooler temperatures and the early greening of the landscape for winter… all of that heat, flame, smoke and destruction seem far away. There are still people living in tents who lost their homes, and those poor folks must feel very forgotten as the nation moves on to the next “unprecedented” crisis.
Once I get up to Whorouly, I could keep heading up the Snow Road, as I haven’t ridden that section before either. However, there are a bunch of little roads through the locality of Whorouly I haven’t ridden before either, so I head over that way.
We wander past scattered farmhouses and many old sharecropper homes. Many Italian families who migrated after World War II grew tobacco here through the 1980s, and the old kilns and sharecropper sheds are reminders of that time. (Tobacco production ended in 2006 with federal legislation). Market gardens were also grown on the fertile flats, and all of the traffic I see on the road is coming from the Spina farm which still sells direct to the public. When I ride by, they have enough pumpkins in huge bins to feed the whole state, I think!
The river is not far away, and there are dips in the fields where old anabranches of the river ran and where small creeks meander to their ends. I pass walnut and persimmon farms (currently in season), an events centre housed in some of the old tobacco sheds, kiwi-fruit (almost in season) and a dairy. I have never understood why anyone would want to be a dairy farmer – it is so labour-intensive and you never ever get a day off or a day that begins after 4 or 5am. And man, is it ever stinky with all the mud and moisture around in winter. Don’t even begin to think about the flies…. In several places where the cows cross from the paddocks to the milking sheds, the road is nothing but clods of mud. I am happy to get past that stinky section.
There is one section where the gravel road is all big rocks and corrugations, but it doesn’t last too long. It’s been a really nice ride today – one of those days where you are glad to be out on the bike and can’t imagine being anywhere else.
My goal is to do 80 kms and three small gaps – the most activity I’ve been able to manage without dipping myself into post-exertional malaise in almost three years. I am on the road back – it’s just been a long one with more setbacks along the way than one would have wished for.
My meander through the floodplain at Whorouly spits me back out at the Snow Road. I don’t have far to ride on this before I cut over to my next road – the Merriang Gap Road. It’s a low gap over low hills that line the Buffalo Valley. These hills force the Ovens River through a relatively narrow choke between the end of this line of hills and the hills coming off the Beechworth Plateau at Gapstead.
I roll up the start of the road and note the large steel beam waiting to be hoisted up to a large barn to replace an old beam already there. I shift into an easier gear as I round the corner at Camp Lane and begin a very gentle climb.
I am taking in the extremely-well surfaced gravel road and the views over a small valley running between the hills, when I detect movement in my peripheral vision to the right. That movement quickly becomes a grey dog snarling and then running in front of the bike. I’m only doing 5 mph, so when I contact the side of his body for a moment, it causes me to wobble, but then I regain my balance. In this time, the dog manages to run behind and around the bike. He growls and then sinks his teeth into my right calf.
CURSE WORD. CURSE WORD, you CURSE WORD bastard bit me!
As I’m saying that, I am pulling out of the toe clips and dismounting to the opposite side of the bike faster than you’ve ever seen a middle-aged chick do so on a slippery gravel road.
The owner is calling the dog off, but the dog is still trying to get around the bike to get to me. His teeth are bared and he is growling, barking and jumping at the bike. I keep yelling “HEY!” at it. But whatever that dog is – a Staffy crossed with something – it is staying incredibly aggressive.
Finally, the owner manages to call the dog off. He tells me to wait while he ties the dog up. He had been sitting on the front porch about 250 metres uphill with his 10-12-year-old son.
The guy comes down to talk to me. He is really sorry. He asks if there is anything he can do. He offers a band-aid (at this point, there is more blood than a band-aid is going to handle). He offers his details, but I don’t take them. I just confirm the dog is up-to-date on all of his shots.
Then I keep riding. Damn. I just got bitten by a dog in Australia. That’s almost like being shot. It just doesn’t happen much at all over here.
I pedal on the up the road to the gap. Other than the major powerlines taking power down to Melbourne, the views are scenic as the road dives and climbs until it comes to a bend in the little valley.
Then we climb through trees to the gap itself.
We get views to the lower end of the Buffalo Valley before the road dives steeply down and curves to the right on big gravel. They haven’t re-done this side of the gap!
The road curls underneath the hill and turns sharply left. There is another sharp right and then the road drops into the valley flats on a straight stretch. With the hills rising to the right and the green paddocks falling away to the left, it’s a beautiful setting (when not under ember attack from the nearby pine plantations which scrawl across the hills not far to the south!). I encounter a couple on horseback. I slow down and then stop and they move well off the road. They say hello and we agree it is a gorgeous day.
I continue through all of the crops and fertile river flats and see lots of cars at the end of the rows of walnut trees. I also see a hops plantation juxtaposed with wine grapes. We have got you covered with alcoholic drink components. This area once had a thriving hops industry that had declined but has now seen a resurgence with craft breweries creating demand again. I also pass a large, new grove of walnut trees – demand for nuts has increased lately, too, as people try to eat healthier.
As I roll into town, there are families all over the place out walking, cycling and generally not staying at home! We are allowed to exercise, but the exponential rate of new exercisers has nothing to do with staying or becoming fit and all about cabin fever!
I weave my way through the many people out enjoying the beautiful weather until I can find a side road. My leg is still bleeding when I put pressure on the down-stroke of pedaling. I’m worried about what sort of bacteria are festering in there, especially given I can’t clear the bacteria I’ve already got in me!
I ring the hospital.
You can’t just show up at the hospital these days, so I ring to tell them I’ve got puncture wounds from a dog bite, and ask if I should come up to get them cleaned. They say yes, come up immediately, and they will meet me at the emergency entrance. There are no COVID cases in this shire at all, but who knows when it will get here.
I have an idea of where the hospital is, but I don’t read the sign right and go through the roundabout instead of heading left. I pedal up the hill, find the service entrance and an old persons’ home. So I circle the block, go back down the hill, turn left, and then ride up the hill again on the entrance drive. You have to be aware of Aussie placement of road signs. Sometimes they place the sign on the far side of the road instead of the near side to tell you where to turn… it’s caught me out elsewhere, too!
They are waiting on me and come out as soon as I roll up. The nurse says my bike will be fine there by the bench and asks me all the COVID questions while she takes my temperature standing outside. She then gives me a mask to wear and takes me inside to the emergency department. I am the only one in there. It is super quiet and the clock on the wall doesn’t work.
The nurse pulls, pokes and prods with the tweezers and tells me the puncture wounds are really deep for a dog bite. She asks, “What kind of dog was it? It had to have a strong jaw to do that, and for that spacing, that was a big mouth!” One of the punctures is 2 cm deep and the other is 1cm. She irrigates them and then tells me she is going to get the doctor to see about stitches.
While I am waiting on this to happen, I read the posters on the walls around me. There is an entire poster related to “Christmas Eye”. Fuck me dead. There is something else that sounds horrible that you can get from an insect that is very common around here. It’s got to be common if they have a whole poster about it. Oh man, with my luck with insects….
The doctor says no stitches. Stitches can trap the bacteria inside. So they steri-strip me up, put on a big waterproof bandage (that keeps coming unstuck all the way home – it is not sweatproof) and give me a tetanus shot. They give me a script for an antibiotic and tell me to get it if my leg starts to swell at all or turn red with or without swelling. I can ride home if I want.
I’m surprised how cool it is when I leave the hospital. I guess I had been generating enough heat riding that I had not noticed that it really isn’t all that warm. It doesn’t take me long to rebuild the heat, though, as I ride the rail trail up toward Taylors Gap. I see five or so others heading back toward town, and then the rail trail is all mine the rest of the way home.
I stop for a few moments at Taylors Gap to eat some nut mix and chocolate. It’s 2pm and we haven’t eaten yet today! Verne is being very polite. I’m sure he’s been starving ever since I went into the hospital. He’s not complaining, but I know what that little fluffy head is thinking!
Then it’s on down the trail toward home. I do have a 10-15kph headwind, and I have ridden this section of trail quite a few times now, but it is still a gorgeous day to be out for a ride. By the time I get up to the Murmungee Basin, my leg is starting to hurt. My planned three-gap day is only going to be a two-gap day. I don’t think it’s wise to ride up into the basin and over Horseshoe Gap today. My immune system probably doesn’t need that extra stress since it will be wondering what the hell to do with the dog bite bacteria and the tetanus shot (I’ve been told over the past few years to avoid vaccines – not from an anti-vaxxer standpoint but just until my immune system can regulate itself again).
So I pass up the opportunity for that bit of the ride and just enjoy the gorgeous autumn day. It starts to sink in that this could be yet another setback in my quest to get well, particularly if the wounds become infected. Puncture wounds are notorious for that. They said it could take 6-8 weeks for the wounds to completely close.
But I force myself not to worry about that. I tell myself to enjoy the green, the hills, the low-angle sun, the cool temps and the lack of magpies and flies. I tell myself to soak this in now, as it sounds like the region might get a good soaking this winter. That’s a very good thing, but it could mean less riding than I normally achieve.
I pedal on across the flat paddocks close to home. Thank you, virus, for the best Easter riding ever. I can’t think of many other positives related to a global pandemic, but to have empty roads at Easter is quite the amazing thing.
Once I get home, I discover the leg has really started to swell and bruise. It HURTS. The bandage is full of blood at the bottom. I do call and make a police report. I shower and get the leg up. It won’t stop bleeding. It smells sooooo bad. I have not come off the bike in awhile, so I’d forgotten how bad blood, pus, white blood cells and all that stuff stinks!
The police come. I make a statement. We chat about bikes. They are impressed with my wall map of all the places I’ve ridden. I think they are taken aback by how little furniture I have and how ‘bare’ the place looks. (My desk and chair normally live in the living room but are in the spare room as my home office, so it is a bit barer than it had been). The sergeant makes sure I know I can claim all my medical expenses through Victims of Crime – he says I can even bring receipts directly to him and he’ll ensure they get paid. I think they think I’m poor because I don’t have a TV or much furniture and drive a car from last century. You don’t think your life is weird until you invite ‘normal’ people into it!
The evening wears on and I can no longer lift my foot 90 degrees to my leg. The hobbling starts. How many setbacks on the road to recovery does one gal have to endure?
**Twelve days have gone by.
The wounds are healing. They still ooze. They bleed on occasion. But they are healing. I have a semi-circular ring of hematomas that remain lumpy, hard and tender, but I can walk almost normally now. The swelling, other than the hematomas, has gone mostly. I am recovering. I think the week of 1200mg of antibiotics every 12 hours was worse than the bite. They made me feel so terrible, lethargic and fuzzy-headed that I could barely function. But, at this point, it looks like this incident will end as simply as most: with scars and a story.