6 July 2020
48 kms (30 miles)
It was a cool night in southern Sydney, but the pub was warm. The cover band played at one end of the main bar. A sprinkling of people, who had already had enough to drink to loosen inhibitions, danced to the ‘70s and ‘80s rock. The pub was probably ¾ full, and there was a line at the bar for drinks. The atmosphere was comfortably middle-class bogan hanging out with friends.
Then, the band launched into its next song, and it was as if the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey had called. Everyone in the pub seemed to pause for a moment and turn toward the band. The dance floor filled quickly, the line at the bar evaporated, and people got up from their seats. And then nearly every person in that pub started to do a line dance with specific moves that EVERYONE seemed to know.
For as strange as this was to see, all those people could have been up there sacrificing a goat or partaking in any cultural ritual from around the world that you never knew existed until you stumbled upon it.
I watched in awe. It was my first Australian cultural experience related to this phenomenon.
You see, that cool winter night, on 4 July 1998, at the Peakhurst Pub (i.e. Peaky Pub) in southern Sydney, the band had launched into Nut Bush City Limits.
And it seems every Aussie in the country, at least of late Boomer and Generation X age, knows the line dance for this song. Funnily enough, the line dance originated in America, but I’ve never met an American that knows it. Yet, they taught the dance in Australian schools for a long time as part of their physical education courses. So a whole lot of Aussies know it. And Aussies of a certain age, with a little bit of alcohol in them, cannot resist busting the moves when a cover band plays that song.
That night was my first, but far from last, experience seeing mass quantities of Aussies partake in uncoordinated attempts at a crappy line dance. And should you think I am overstating the Australian infatuation with Tina Turner’s song, the Aussies have world records to prove their love.
That night also happened to be the 4th of July. I was hanging out with Nigel and his friends. I had met Nigel in March of that year and had met back up with him in Sydney at the end of my trip. His friends had all toasted to the 4th of July for me earlier in the night, which is why I remember the date of my Australian cultural indoctrination (I still don’t know that dance though).
So every 4th of July, I remember the Nut Bush and my first experience with it. I think back to being a kid in America and my safety conscious parents not taking us to fireworks shows or buying any fireworks to light at home either. Instead, they bought sparklers which we were allowed to stand with and twirl in the driveway while we tried to see the city fireworks show over the neighbouring homes and trees. So, the 4th of July was never a big deal to me as a kid, or later on in life either. These days, after a few minutes of recalling kiddo memories and the Peaky Pub, I just move on with the day.
This 4th of July is filled with going up to help Nigel with some things and then driving home. The weather is poor anyway. Sunday is much the same. I have a slightly ambitious idea for a ride Monday that has been staring at me from the map for a long time. But by the time the fog burns off, it is too late to do that ride given our short daylight hours.
So, once the fog finally lifts around noon, I decide I’ll just ride up to Eldorado and give the guys a float in Reedy Creek instead.
We take off through the bright green paddocks, seeing a few other cyclists out for a ride on our way. It’s school holidays in Victoria, so there are a few more people out and about than normal. We head over the river which is running high and fast and then down several roads we’ve ridden quite a few times now in the past 9 months.
It is a joy to hear frogs calling out in chorus from every roadside puddle and ephemeral creek. The sounds of life are such a change to the dryness of summer when only the buzz of flies and lowing of cows can be heard.
It’s cold – it’s still only 6 degrees. Verne has his hood up and Kermit is leaning in close. The cold air in my lungs makes my asthma a bit annoying, but with all the stresses lately, it is just so nice to get outside and away from all those worries for a bit.
As we head north, I note that there is still a thick fog layer hanging over Eldorado. We continue on, thinking it will lift by the time we get to it. But as we get closer, I note that it isn’t lifting. So I recalibrate and decide we’ll head east on whatever road comes next. We’ll ride up to Everton instead, before turning toward home. It will give us a similar distance and maybe a new road.
The new road ends up being Bradley Road. It traverses the wide valley with some tree-lined bits, some open bits and some boggy, low bits on either side of the gravel. It really is nice to just be out pedalling. My el-barto symptoms haven’t been too kind lately, and the artemisinin and myrrh have been kicking my butt, so a gentle ride is probably a good thing. I always feel better after a ride if it isn’t too strenuous.
We head back toward the rail trail and then head east on it. There’s a long, flat stretch between Hodgson’s Creek and the Wangaratta-Beechworth Road. There are views up onto the edge of the Beechworth Plateau and the national park to the northeast. In contrast to summer, when you dread this long patch through the sun, the radiant heat is welcome. C’mon Vitamin D dosage!
There’s a short climb and fall before the Beechworth Road, and then a longer gentle climb to Everton Upper. There are swooping magpies along here in spring, and I’m wondering if today will be the day I get my first swooping of the year. This is usually the second week of July, though the full-on, multiple attack rides don’t usually start until mid-August. We’ll completely disregard that swooping in May this year because I don’t quite know how to tally that one.
But the magpies leave me alone and I traverse the trail without nuisance. I note all the oxalis growing on the trailside and consider picking some to take home to include with dinner, but I don’t have any salad fixings right now, so I leave them be. They are an edible weed, and there are plenty along the ride today.
At Everton Upper, we turn off the trail and coast down White Post Road. There is a popular parking area for the rail trail here. This lot is at the base of the 16 kilometre climb up to Beechworth, and a lot of people park here, and then ride up to Beechworth return. Or they do car drops so they only have to coast downhill! There are four cars in the lot today.
White Post Road curves down through a small valley past old cottages and one very tidy, immaculately maintained older home that has an old council playground structure in the rear yard on the creek flats. Imagine how cool that would be if you were those peoples’ grandkids!
Toward the end of the run, where the road runs out of the valley at the base of the Everton Hills, a magpie comes, floats along above me and then swoops, not too aggressively, three times. Yep, second week (this is the first full week, but second week of dates) of July every year! Up ahead, I can see a roadie coming my direction. I’m sure he could see the bird coming for me from that distance, so at least he got some warning.
From Everton, I turn back toward Markwood. There is a very aggressive magpie near the store here, but luckily, he hasn’t joined his mate yet in swooping for the season. (The most aggressive magpie ever – the one that shat on me multiple times – is just a km or two up the Diffey Road nearby).
I stop with the guys to give them a float in the Ovens River, since we didn’t make it up to Reedy Creek. This is usually quite a popular camping reserve, but in winter it is all mud and a lot of shade, so there is no one here today. I let the guys float for a bit in a backwater while I soak up the sun. I can’t believe it is already mid-winter. Time has flowed in the weirdest of ways since the pandemic took hold.
We ride on toward home down a road we’ve ridden dozens and dozens of times now. This one has three swooping magpies on it, but I will most likely miss their antics this year. I’m going to have to move house, and will probably have done so before they all get going again. Sigh…. Moving will be a big hassle, and the stress of finding somewhere decent in a place with super low vacancy rates, is not exactly what I need right now. But you do what you have to do and just get on with things, right?
Today’s ride was a hastily recalculated Plan C, but it’s a good 50 kms that doesn’t hurt my cruddy body much at all. It’s probably just what I needed. Riding is always what’s needed!
I think 2020 will be a year that sticks in many people’s heads as the year that all their plans were ruined. But I think, for me, 2020 will actually just meld right in with 2018 and 2019, since all my plans for those years were ruined, too. The stay-at-home orders in those years were imposed by my body instead of the government, but already, all this slow downtime has started to lump together in my head.
Other than the huge disappointment and sadness in not being able to see my family this year, all the rest is a whole lot like the past two years have been. And the work from home… yeah, I did that for 3 years in my PhD, and hated it then as much as I hate it now. So I look forward to the future and will muddle through the next 18 months in much the same way I muddled through the last 24.
However, I am grateful to be in Australia, even if they do have an obsession with a really bad line dance from the 1980s. The other cultural icon song of a participatory nature, which I also got my first experience with on 4 July 1998, is one we recently missed out on when they cancelled the Red Hot Summer Tour in March. That was at the very beginning of the pandemic, though it feels forever ago now.
Here’s a bit of a history of the song and a live version of it (you won’t be impressed by the quality of the music, but it is a clever and very Aussie chorus). Language warning!
Until next time, are you ever going to read my journal again?