108 kms (67 miles)
You know you’ve written too many project scopes and been working for a long time without a holiday when you plan out an overnight ride for the weekend and your immediate thoughts are expressed in your brain thus: “The aim/purpose of this ride is XX. The objectives are XX.”
The other planning for this ride is the insistence of Kermit that we go find a frog party. With La Nina providing adequate spring rain for the first time in four years, Kermit has been quite excited by the huge number of frogs we hear on our rides. At one spot near the river 8 kms from home, the Geiger counter frogs sound like a whole bunch of people walking around with devices detecting radiation (which you can somewhat hear in the video below).
So, Kermit says he wants to go party this weekend, and my brain says: The purpose of this ride is to gauge our current level of health and fitness. The objectives of this ride are to determine: 1) a percentage estimate of our pre-illness capacity; 2) the distance and difficulty of riding that my body can currently undertake without causing post-exertional malaise; and, 3) the recovery time required after a “short” overnight ride carrying camping gear (i.e. how many days post-ride do I feel like a zombie?).
With all those things in mind, and a four-day weekend to play with, I plot out a two or three-day ride over easy, undulating terrain that I’m quite familiar with from the huge number of rides we did out of Jindera between 2015 and 2017. The first day will be a short one – from Morgan’s Lookout to somewhere west of Henty. I know of a few places we could camp: an old road reserve at Munyabla we’ve camped in before, an old rail corridor that I remember from a ride in 2017 that held promise, and a nature reserve we’ve never visited. All could involve a couple new roads to ride, too. Then, on day 2, if I feel okay, we could ride back to Nigel’s place to collect my car. If I’m feeling scrappy, we could divide that ride up into two days.
So, I spend the night at Nigel’s house on Saturday and he drives me up to the Lookout Sunday morning. I’m keen to climb up to the top of the Lookout to see the expanse of green fields that La Nina has brought. October was the first month we had above average precipitation (just) in four years. All of the greenery makes my hayfever terrible, but the landscape looks humane and habitable and full of life – not something you’d normally find in November.
I pedal slowly up toward Henty. The roads are really quiet today. Coronavirus has really dampened the amount of community sport being played which means fewer cars on the road travelling to games and matches throughout the district. As someone who can work from home with few other responsibilities, the virus has actually made my life quite good the past seven months. Sure, I’ve limited my grocery shopping, haven’t used a public toilet since March and still have the same $50 note in my wallet that’s been in there since March… but all the quiet and restricted movement has suited me quite well. I suppose it partially makes up for not knowing if or when I’ll ever see my family again. At a minimum, it will be at least 2.5 years of not seeing my parents, which is a very sad thing when they are elderly.
That’s a bit of what I’m thinking about as I slip through the landscape on the chunky chip-seal of this shire. I’ve ridden this road many times and I’m happy to say that some of it has been resealed in the past three years, though the worst bits are still on the to-do list.
The canola has finished flowering but hasn’t been harvested yet. The wheat tips are starting to brown but are still green about the stalks. The canola will start to be harvested in a few weeks time – the wheat comes a bit later. Most everything gets harvested by Christmas though. I see some other crops that I’m not sure what they are – they must be oats or barley. Farmers are expecting near-record yields in some places this year. It’s amazing what decent rain can do.
The kilometres flow by. I’m not feeling too cruddy today. I haven’t felt “good” except for about 2 days since July 2017, but I do feel acceptable today. I generally feel a bit better on Sundays if I don’t do anything but lie around like a sedate slug all day on Saturdays to recoup energy after the work week.
I haven’t done a loaded ride in a long time. The load today is light, but even in the first few kms, I get that immediate sense of freedom that touring provides. Knowing that you’ve got your bed, shelter and food and water with you, and that you are totally self-sufficient (at least until the water runs out) is such a tremendous feeling. I immediately want to just keep riding and riding, even if my body is not on board with all the other gear and what my mind says should be the plan.
After all the gentle inclines and declines, we find ourselves rolling up toward the main street of Henty. We happen to pass by a row of churches which all seem to be letting out parishioners as we go by. Australia is such a secular country that it seems odd to see people congregating outside a church – especially a heap of young people. However, Henty got its start by emigrating religious people and has a strong Lutheran heritage, so maybe it’s not so surprising. I wonder what the attendance limits are in NSW right now. It’s not something I’ve investigated, and with the virus largely under control, it’s likely the density limits would be similar to congregation numbers in small town churches like this.
Henty doesn’t have a whole lot going on. The main street is pretty much all owned by the same guy.
The only thing open today is the tiny supermarket which appears to have had a facelift, and the pub, which was closed for some time before somebody got some community members together to purchase it.
I don’t want to go in the pub to get food. After exceptionally poor customer service at the supermarket on one ride a couple years ago where they deliberately served other customers instead of me, I won’t go back there either.
So that leaves the two service stations out on the main highway as a source of milk and a snack. However, the “local” service station gave me crappy service a couple years ago, so I won’t go back there. The woman running the place was in charge of handing out the keys to the toilet block at the showgrounds where you could camp. However, she insisted that only ‘caravanners’ stayed out there and didn’t want to give me the key until I pointed out that the council website stated that unpowered sites were available.
So since then, I’ve only patronized the Shell station in town – which has always had good service and very reasonable prices on their food. I ride over the railway line and toward the service stations. Well, other people must not have had good experiences at the independent service station with the nasty lady, because it has closed and looks like it has been for quite some time.
This means the Shell station is super-busy. The food warmer has at least 7 different phone orders packaged up waiting for pick-up, there are two other groups waiting on an order, and in the time I am waiting for some hot chips to come out, at least nine other vehicles and their occupants come and go. Everyone is socially distanced and spaced out enough in time not to make me nervous (plus today is the first day since June where there are no virus cases recorded anywhere in the country). They are on to a good thing here!
I take my litre of milk and $2 of hot chips down to the local park. It is an insane amount of chips for that price – the bag fills up half of my handlebar bag! Hamburgers are still just $6 there, too – exceptionally cheap for a highway service station.
The park is busy! There is a birthday party going on with about 20 people scattered about. I guess these people would normally have the party at the birthday person’s house, but gathering limits at homes probably preclude that. It’s much safer to meet outdoors at the park. There are plenty of kids on the playground and at the skate park, too. So I take my food down to a quiet corner of the park near the tennis courts.
It is an absolutely gorgeous day. It’s warm, not hot, and there’s a breeze. The sun is shining and all the troubles of the world are very, very far away from this little town in rural NSW. I lie there and reflect on how lucky I am to live here in a country that just had three elections (two territory/state elections – ACT and QLD; one state’s local government elections -VIC) that were all held without issue or contest or problems with mail-in ballots. The territory/state elections both saw the conservative party lose seats, and in a humorous twist, one of the most conservative seats in the ACT was won by the Greens!! Coupled with Jacinta Arden’s landslide victory in New Zealand, there is hope that the world will right itself after the recent swing to right-wing populism.
I spend a while lounging in the grass in the shade, letting the milk and hot chips settle somewhere that won’t bother me while riding. I decide we should head out to the Doodle Comer Swamp Reserve. We’ve never stopped there, and even though there won’t be any water in it, I’d still like to have a look.
So we head out of town on the Henty-Ryan Road which is a new road for us. It ascends over the hills through paddocks sown to wheat and canola. It rounds the corner of a hill with views over a wide, green (today at least) valley. This was part of one of the original squatter’s runs called Mundawaddera.
I decide to head up the Edgehill Church Lane. It’s a new road and one of our favourite kinds – a tiny, tree-lined dirt track.
Just south of the main road we come upon an old homestead. It is far into its decay, but it is interesting because it looks like it is mud-brick. I try to imagine the stories that went with the place.
Some research once I’m home reveals more information about the place than you could ever want to know – it’s been the subject of a study by a professor at the research institute where I did my PhD. The house and kitchen were built somewhere between 1893 and 1895 by a member of the Klemke family. That family was part of the large wave of Lutheran emigrants that migrated to this area of NSW in the 1850s and 1860s when the second generation of German immigrants were priced out of land in South Australia. The “mud brick” is actually a style of building specific to these German emigrants that used vertical pine poles filled in with a clay/straw daub mix. You can read all about the homestead and its pug and pine construction (plus more, good photos) here (the link will take you to a page to download the report – you don’t need to join the site to download):
We roll along the hill and pass another homestead of similar construction before we pass the church at the top of the hill. The associated cemetery can’t be seen from the road. The church was built in 1892 before being disbanded in 1963. It has the same pug and pine construction, but the exterior is covered in weatherboard sheeting.
We roll on down to the stock reserve road (one we’ve done before) before turning off to head toward the swamp reserve. It is such a gorgeous day, and that breeze, now in my face, keeps the flies away. This is the first ride that the pesky insects have been swarming my face – they are about two weeks late this year.
We are circumnavigating the swamp – it’s a line of trees at the bottom of the hill slopes in the distance. I think about the topography and that big indent among the hills. The geology here is the same as everywhere else in the region. The rocks are sandstones and siltstones deposited in the Silurian at the bottom of the ocean at a time of crustal extension. The rocks were then uplifted in the Benambran orogeny. The formation of the swamp came later as all the erosion began in the hills.
I haven’t seen a vehicle since leaving Henty, and I am grateful for the silence and stillness as we roll up and down the hills, looking out over the gentle undulations and crops so full and lush. I stop for 20 or 30 seconds to let a moderate-sized brown snake in the middle of the road decide which way it’d like to go. It pokes its head up when it hears/feels me approaching, moves forward slowly at first, and then skedaddles away into the roadside grass.
We pass the entrance to the Doodle Cooma property – one of the first major runs settled in this area.
And then we make it up to Listers Lane. This is just a two-track with grass high enough in the centre to brush against my leg. It’s a gentle uphill. There’s a property at the top of the hill (the Listers’ place?) that is in ruins. There’s a sign for the reserve. You can walk around the fence.
We follow the track downhill to another gate. Inside this gate is a large sign and a picnic table. They must have spent the budget on the sign and not on a shade covering for the picnic bench – but I guess the only time this ephemeral swamp would have water would be in months that shade is not as needed.
I wander over to the edge of the swamp to a line of exposed rocks. The grass is so tall that it has fallen over. I stomp my way over the grass slowly. I’m watching very, very carefully for snakes. We are well into snake season and this is prime habitat.
I look out over the expanse of the swamp and can see a pile of exposed rocks just like this one poking up out of the flat swamp bottoms. These rock outcroppings were important to the Wiradjuri and there have been many artefacts found throughout the reserve. We’ll camp near what looks like a scar tree.
I sit in the shade on the rocks for awhile gazing out over the expanses of the swamp – thinking through the last 380 million years of history. What did the land look like at different points in time? How did European settlement change the fire frequency and vegetation? What will this look like as it regenerates over time? What does climate change and the trend toward longer and hotter dry periods mean for an ephemeral swamp like this?
Eventually, I wander back to the bike at the picnic table. I get my adrenalin spike for the day as I go tromping back through the grass. In one spot, where the grass is not so thick, I stop suddenly when I can see a brown snake body about 1.5 metres away (still socially distanced, but still too close for comfort!). I cannot see its tail or head, but a still body is enough!
I tromp away from it and give it a wide berth. I collect my bike and head down the mown track at the property boundary toward a bird hide. The grass has been mown recently (thankfully – as I wouldn’t be brave enough to tromp through shoulder-high grass). The bird hide is clean and cob-web free inside. This would be good for camping in crap weather if it is that clean year-round.
I leave the bike in an opening and walk further along. There is a lot of red gum regrowth but I don’t see any better spot to camp. I’m tired now and ready to lay down. Plus, I’m tired of fighting the flies.
So, long about 5pm, the tent goes up, I lay down and that is the end of the day.
Except for Kermit. As the sun begins to set around 7.45pm, he perks right up and excuses himself. It is time for a frog party. We will not see him again until dawn.
I watch Mars appear through the tent mesh and let the sun set and the mozzies disappear before I get out to pee and put the tent fly on. I wonder when that full moon is going to rise. The answer is: not long. I watch it rise through the vegetation and appear to sit on the branches of a dead tree to the east. The frog chorus is sooooooo loud! I came for the peace and quiet, but the roar of the frogs is anything but quiet! Turn up the video sound below (just listen to the video – the camera is pointed to the moon, but it’s the audio that I was wanting to capture). The video really doesn’t do justice to how loud it was – see if you can pick out Kermit’s voice.
Everything is soaked in the morning. I slept pretty good. If you have hayfever, and it’s the height of hayfever season, sleeping in the middle of long grass means a heap of sneezing, a sore throat, a nose that runs like a tap, and lungs tight enough to need an inhaler. So that stuff woke me up once or twice, but I don’t feel too shitty this morning. That’s good! Kermit returns to the tent looking a bit tired and hungover… but happy.
I pack up the soaked tent and push the bike back through the long, wet grass. It’s 500 metres or so. My feet are soaked by the time we get back to the gate. It reminds me of when my parents took us to the state fair each year as kids. We always had to go on balloon day. We had to get up stupidly early to watch the balloons being inflated. This meant that you had to walk through a lot of wet grass from the parking area. Your feet would get soaked and stay wet all day in the humid Indiana air. Then we would have to visit all the animal and 4H exhibits (boring beyond belief), watch some terrible talent shows, and have lunch at the pork producers tent (I have always been repulsed by pork – to me it smells like human flesh being torched and tastes like death smells). The only highlight of the day was the manufacturer’s building (I have no idea what was in there, I just know it was air-conditioned!) and getting an elephant ear. My safety conscious parents would never let us go on any of the Midway rides or play any of the rip-off games.
So I think back to my youth with my wet feet, thankful I will never ever have to go to another state fair in my lifetime. At the bottom of Listers Lane, I stop and peel off my pants and remove my jacket which I’d worn to ward off the mozzies as we walked through the wet grass.
I feel good enough I think I can make it back to Nigel’s today. It will be 60kms on top of yesterday’s 48. Yes, those are sad distances, even in kilometres, but I was sick enough and had so little energy that I wasn’t riding at all as recently as mid-September. So I am happy with this amount right now, even if it is a pathetic distance on easy terrain.
The morning is pretty cool, but we are certainly on our way to warmer temps after a pretty perfect October (not a single day in the 90s (30s C). That doesn’t happen often – some Octobers will see us get into the upper 30sC.
I pedal back toward Jindera on roads I’ve ridden a zillion times. Not much has changed since we last came this way a couple years ago. Everyone is on good behavior today and no cars pass too closely. I am happy to get back to Nigel’s place around noon. I take a shower, have a nap and just relax. I wait until he gets home from work, so I can give him a hug goodbye.
I have the last week of November off and this ride was meant to tell me (through its aim and objectives) if it was at all realistic to plan some sort of short multi-day ride. We’ll see how I pull up in the next few days and how my body and immune system respond. I think, tentatively, that I could do a five or six-day ride if I keep the kms quite low. I also have a doctor’s appointment on the 12th to see if he has any other ideas to assist in my recovery. I’m starting to get nervous about my lack of progress and want to run some ideas by him after his response to an email I sent a week or so ago.
So the short and medium-term future is uncertain. But at least it is my personal future and plans that are uncertain – not the whole country’s (I am feeling sad and apprehensive for my American friends and family). I am safe. I have access to healthcare. I have enough savings to survive for a couple years. We’ll see what happens, but hopefully there is a very short cycle tour in my future in a few weeks time.