33 kms (14 miles)
Have you ever had a day that did not really go as you had seen it in your mind? Have you made decisions on the information available that turned out to be a bit misinformed?
With mobile phones allowing you to google any question you ever wanted to answer in real time and allowing instant access to weather reports and radar, it’s easy to forget how to make decisions for yourself and choose the best option. I’m reminded of this on the short ride today.
It’s a bit after 6am. I wake and don’t feel too crappy. It is still warm and sticky. Whatever rain fell through the night was some time ago, as the tent fly is pretty dry. So is my throat. I’m thirsty. I’ve got about 750 mls of water left.
It is supposed to rain today – the forecast was for 15-20 mms. That is a fair bit – it means there should be steady to heavy rain for a period. The rain should be from the back side of the front that brought the storms yesterday.
I could wait out the rain today in the tent. 750 mls of water isn’t great, but it would be enough. But I don’t know when I will next find water, and I would hate to start Day 3 with none. It is warm enough that it would actually feel good to get rained on. Maybe it is best if we just move on and ride in the rain to find our next water source.
The only drawback is that I will be climbing to the top of the plateau and will be wet at 800 metres. After the front passes and the temperature drops, it means I could end up being pretty cold. However, I will have dry clothes to change into, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find somewhere to whack up the tent to get warm if required. I think I’m more concerned about finding water than any hypothermia consequences.
Plus, it’s not raining right now, so I can get the tent down and gear stowed away in waterproof panniers before the rain begins again. I’ve got no way to confirm any weather forecasts or radar since I don’t have phone reception, but the ‘move on’ plan wins out.
The guys take their place in the handlebar bag after pack-up and we set forth on that steeper section of road. I feel surprisingly decent today. The air is still warm, thick and sticky but definitely not hot.
It makes me think of a song by Bob Mould’s old band Sugar called “It’s a Good Idea”. It’s a really fun song live because Bob always sings the word “temptation” all drawn out and suggestive or with a scream. The lyrics go:
They went down to the river. On a warm summer night. The air was thick, with the smell of temptation.
So I’m playing the song in my head as we pedal slowly up the hill in the first drops of rain in that thick air. I have to walk up a few of the steeper bits. I could ride the grade or the rocky, loose surface… but not the combination of the two.
The rain picks up a bit. Aaahhh, that feels so good. The guys go in the rear panniers which are waterproof. I didn’t bring the rain covers for my front panniers since nothing in them matter too much if they get wet, and the forecast for the rest of the trip is hot and sunny.
We proceed up and up, moving from the peppermints into the stringybarks. The rain varies from light to moderate. The air is still and dense. It is green all around, and the smell of astringent eucalypt pervades. It smells so fresh, you know, that eucalyptus scent you can purchase in your cleaning products….
We can look down into the deep cleft of Watchbox Creek just to the left. There are two sets of waterfalls over there, according to my map, but tramping through dense, mid-story bush where you can’t see your feet is a winter activity, not a summer one. (Snakes). I wish the weather was clear, however, because I imagine there would be some pretty good views from here.
Never mind, I’m enjoying this silent, still ride up through the forest in the rain. We ascend higher, walking the steeper bits, but riding about 90 percent of the time.
It starts to get foggy. We’re high enough to be in the cloud now. The rain continues, steady and moderate. The fog increases. We find ourselves at about 700 metres among the stringybarks. This has all been logged multiple times, but the trees are still tall even if they are not wide. When you see the size of some of the stumps, it is a sad reminder of how magnificent this forest would have been before the Europeans came.
We’re up to 7 Out. That’s the good thing about logging roads. You can track your progress by the UHF radio signage. Each km is marked with the number of kilometres you are from the main road. So 7 Out means we are 7 kms for the Tatong- Tolmie Road. (Yesterday we joined at 15 out).
It gets super foggy. The rain is heavier at times. It is spooky riding in that silence in the fog. The birds are quiet and huddled away somewhere. There are no people. But I like it.
A bit further on, the fog lifts a bit, it gets a little lighter, and then the rain absolutely pours down. It is not long before I go from being wet to being totally drenched. I have never thought of myself as a fair-weather rider, and I am definitely going to rack up some points for foul weather riding today! But, the waterproof camera I bought for occasions like this comes into its own today.
We continue in the pouring rain. There is so much gunk on the rims now though that they scrape the rim here and there. Without any braking power whatsoever and the road now becoming two running streams of water, I get off and push the bike.
It’s fine, I’m enjoying this… except for those rumbles of thunder. It wasn’t supposed to storm today. Or so the forecast said Sunday morning. Never mind, keep going. We can’t get any wetter than we are now. My shoes have puddles IN them that squelch when I step down.
We’re high on the ridge now, close to 800 metres. We reach the pine plantations. And then the weirdest thing happens. The relative lightness goes dark in about two seconds flat. I can’t recall the darkness of a storm approaching ever being quite that dramatic. It’s as if someone just stepped in and dialed the dimmer lights right down. It is moody and slightly alarming as a flash of lightning is closely followed by thunder.
The pine plantation butts up against a higher rounded knoll that retains native forest. The road goes around this knoll on the outside of the ridge. On a clear day, I am sure there are some great views off to the rolling hills to the southwest. But right now, 800 metres high, at the tallest point on the ridge, there is no view and I am not concerned about that.
As we walk along with tall forest to the left on the knoll, and an open clearing to the right as the slope drops away, the storm sets upon us. Shit. The wind tosses the upper branches of the trees around in wild, thrashing motions. The rain gets harder. I can hardly see. What I can see is that wild wind driving the rain forth in sheets like you see in videos. I see the sheet of rain coming, it drives into me like being sprayed with a hose, there is a brief moment of vertical rain, and then the next horizontal sheet hits.
The drainage ditch is running full of red and muddy whitewater. It would be at truly fast and furious ride for the guys in the floaties down that! At points, the sticks and debris create dams and the water overflows onto and down the road.
I really do enjoy the experience of nature’s fury. Or at least most of it. The wind, the driving rain, the total drenching and the water running hell for leather. I like all of that a lot. I’d like it even more if I could be watching it from shelter.
What I do not like is the lightning and thunder. I am not afraid of much. Heights, tight spaces, snakes, spiders… nup, not afraid. I’m cautious around the venomous species, for sure, but I’m not afraid. But I’ve been afraid of lightning my whole life (how can you grow up in the terrifying storms of Indiana and not be?). And I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve been terrified. (Try this one: https://rambleoutyonder.org/2018/02/01/range-roaming-wyoming-2013-day-43/) I can recall instantly all the times on my bike tours through Midwestern America in spring where I was very concerned for my welfare.
So I am not cracked about all these lightning cracks and booming thunder. The main reason I am a bit concerned is because I am in the worst possible place to be – the highest point on the ridge on the highest ridge in the near vicinity. AND the lightning and thunder are RIGHT HERE. The thunder and lightning are pretty much simultaneous and there is less than a minute between strikes.
I don’t see any great spot to shelter, so I play lightning lotto and just keep pushing the bike. The lightning and thunder seem to ease off a little, a strike every 2-3 minutes. I’m still very high on the ridge in a pretty open area that is the fire break between the pines and the native forest that slopes away down the hill.
Then, there is a flash right in front of me, like a hard blink, that instinctively makes me stop and pull back. Almost at the same time, but slightly above and behind me, I hear a “BANG!”, “BANG!”, like two gunshots or the sound of a transformer blowing. What the hell was that?! Almost immediately after that, there is the peal of thunder that sounds like the sky ripping apart followed by the biggest percussive boom I’ve ever heard in my time in Oz (Indiana had a lot like those). It rumbles on through the hills for quite some time.
All of this takes about a second to unfold. If you were to have started counting “one thousand and one” to calculate distance from strike, you would have got out a “wuh” and that is it. That was waaaaaaay too freaking close! And what was that explosive sound between the lightning and the peal of thunder? I’ve been close to lightning strikes before – one time my arm hair even stood on end, but I’ve never heard that explosive sound before. (Research once home suggests that the sound comes from the ground stroke reaching up to the down stroke. It also means you are a fool and were very, very close to the strike).
My heart is racing now. Another close strike sends me scuttling up into the pines, dropping the bike on the embankment. Okay, this is not fun anymore. It is going to make a good story at some point, but right now I am not a happy chick. After that strike, I retrieve the bike and drag it up into the pines with me. This feels marginally safer than the open fire break.
It is still raining. I’m absolutely drenched. Now that I’ve stopped moving, I know I will get cold soon. So I pull the ground sheet out of my pannier and wrap it around me. I crouch there for five minutes as the storm continues.
I then decide I really should set up the tent and get in where it’s dry. So I set the tent up as fast as I can, though it is wet inside and out from the rain drenching the pannier. I get all my gear in the vestibule and then realise I have forgotten my quick dry towel. This would have been handy to try to dry the floor of the tent – which is all wet and even has puddles in it. So I peel off my soaked shorts, remove my wet shirt, wring out the shirt and then use it to mop up the puddles and wipe up the floor as best as I can. I then use my one pair of underwear to dry the floor as much as possible. Next, I unroll my sleeping pad and put the wet side down.
I put on my raincoat, pull out the sleeping bag and wrap it around me. I really could use a nap right now, but I don’t want to get the sleeping bag wet from the floor. So I sit there cross-legged, knees up, cocooned in my sleeping bag on the sleeping pad, as if it were a little raft of dryness.
I decide I should try to see if I can pick up a phone signal since I’m up so high. I get one bar of 3G. Not enough to see radar but enough to text Nigel to say: hunkered down on tiger hill road in pine plantations. Big storm. Heading on toward Middle Creek later. He hasn’t heard from me since I left home, so he will be happy to receive that.
Twenty minutes later and the storm seems to have passed. If I had known there were storms predicted today I would not have left camp this morning. The last forecast I’d seen had just predicted rain. But at least we have made it through unscathed. It does nothing to alleviate my fear of lightning though.
I hang out until I can see sun poking through the needles above. I then pack up everything again, put my drenched clothes back on and do the thing every cyclist and backpacker hates… slip my feet back into my wet shoes. I carry everything back down to the road and reload the bike. The sun is out now and the wind is blasting from the southwest. It will not take long for my clothes to dry! It is considerably cooler and the humidity has gone.
We ride on through the pine forest and then down to the Tatong-Tolmie Road. I see one feral cat and one fox in the pine plantations… sigh.
The day is now sunny and bright. I haven’t been too thirsty today, but I’m down to about 250ml. Ryan’s Creek runs alongside the road – I can hear it roaring down there – but there is no way to get down to it from the road. What a tease!
We wind our way through the stringybarks on good gravel (not a logging road). The cicadas are deafening. Back in Indiana, cicadas were an end of summer thing. They always meant that it was just about time to go back to school. So I always hated when they started. It is just the opposite here – the cicadas start up not too long before school lets out for summer. So you’d have a very different view of the sound of cicadas growing up here.
We pass German Creek just before the bridge over Ryans Creek ahead. It is easy to get down to the water, so I chug down the last 250mls of water and fill up three litres. The purification tablets should have done their work by the time I get to somewhere to camp.
We climb up Madhouse Road on somewhat rough and jagged gravel. We stop to see the ‘historic grave’. It’s a woman that died during a heavy snow whose family were given permission to bury her here. This area was a small settlement in the late 1800s and the family had a block of land. How times have changed – this area still gets snow once or twice a winter, but it would never be so heavy that you couldn’t wait until the afternoon or next day to travel.
I read the interpretive sign and wonder just what that woman would have thought about being buried here. Would she have been angry they didn’t attempt to get her to town? Would she be pleased to be buried at the home where they lived? She definitely did not have an easy life – she gave birth 10 or 11 times, had six children live to adulthood, was a step-mother to another six, was married three times (once to the man for whom she’d been a housekeeper). I am so glad I was not alive in that time. Imagine not ever wanting children and having to get married three times and give birth almost a dozen times!
We continue on Madhouse Road on gently undulating road. We climb a bit, some bits are flat. The forest through here has all been logged pretty recently. There are no big trees around much at all. It is disappointing to see, since much of it would have ended up as chip for paper.
I have to pull over for a couple forestry workers in a ute, and then another ute of forestry workers. Was there really a fire on Sunday and they are going to work on it? Surely they would stop and warn me if I was heading into danger?
The road drops down to Middle Creek. There is a flat, grassy area next to the creek that looks perfect for drying out all my gear. I was planning on doing another 4 kms to Upper 15-Mile Creek but this looks great. It’s 2pm, let’s be done for the day and get everything dry!
I pull out all the wet gear, set up the tent and spread out the ground sheet and tent fly. With the high wind and sun, it should all dry fairly quickly.
I go down to the creek to fill up the other 2-litre water bottle. Then I settle down and have a nap in the tent.
Later, I wake to some spitting rain from a dark cloud. It is pretty cool. We’re at 710 metres here. I think it would be good to get the tent fly on so that I can keep the rain off all the gear that has dried, and to build up some heat in the tent since it is cool (this is when I discover I forgot to pack my thermal top).
Just as I’m getting out of the tent, and about to grab the rain fly, I note the last eight inches of a snake slithering under my tent fly. Crap!! I think it is a red-bellied black, but maybe that wasn’t black. It could have been a brown. At least it was a solid colour, so I know it’s not a tiger snake. On a scale of aggressive to most docile, tigers are the worst and red-belly blacks the “best”. All three of them will kill you if you don’t get anti-venom pretty quickly after a bite.
Okay, so what would you do?
I am just grateful I saw the snake go under. What a nasty incident it would be if you went over to grab the tent fly and both you and the snake got a big surprise.
I do what you likely thought you would do. I gather up the remaining gear still set out to dry and put it all in the tent. I then retreat to the tent and hope it doesn’t rain. That tent fly must have looked like a nice big slab of rock to hang out under!
I nap some more. 1.5 hours later, I get up the courage to attempt to retrieve the tent fly. I’m hoping the tent fly smelled very human and the snake has moved on. I take a long stick and stomp the ground to give the snake some bad vibrations. I use the stick to try to pick up the tent fly and pull it away. I’m also trying not to cause damage to the tent fly, so it’s not a real successful first few attempts. I video it all in case a snake comes rushing out, bites me and I die. Surely if you are going to get a Darwin Award, it should be recorded for the benefit of all to laugh at or learn from.
Thankfully, the snake has moved on. Nothing like two heart-racing moments in one day.
I eat some food, and drink and drink and drink water. I nap, I look at the map and I cuddle down in the bag as the temperature drops. And about 6pm, I’m pretty done for the day. I wake a few more times before dark, but just go back to sleep each time. I’m an Energizer bunny with old Duracells. Or I’m a vehicle firing on considerably fewer cylinders than available. I’ve felt okay through the day, but any illusions that I’m healthy are shattered by my body’s great capacity and desire for sleep. So maybe this is why I can’t get well – I’m only sleeping 8 hours a night at home when my body would really prefer 12-14! Regardless, I am so, so happy to be out here in the forest… on my bike… with my little crew.