4 kms (yeah, I know)
There is that feeling you get when you wake before your alarm goes off. Do you peek at the clock to see how much longer you can sleep? Or do you just roll over and try to pretend you’ve not woken at all. If you peek at the clock, there is the relief when you see you’ve got a full hour to sleep until you have to get up or the disappointment when you’ve woken just seven minutes before the alarm.
The sun and my body clock are aligned. I wake at 6.23 am. For the past six weeks or so, I always wake up around that time. On work days, with my four metre commute, I can sleep another hour.
Today, I can sleep for however long I like! Today’s ride is only four kilometres long. We just want to get down to Upper 15 Mile Creek and find a spot along there to spend today and tomorrow.
So I go back to sleep until 8 am. It’s cool outside, and the dew all over the grass and the condensation in the tent mean it’s still quite wet out there!
Right on 9am, just as I’m all packed up, three forest worker utes and one semi towing a grader go by. I leave soon after. I have to stop to let one more forestry ute go by.
The scenery is still the same harvested forest in various stages of regrowth. The cicadas are just starting up and the last of the dew clings as individual droplets on blades of grass to the last. The wind has returned, sending the layers of cloud scooting by overhead.
I reach all the forestry workers where the Archerton Track takes off and the Madhouse Road begins its dive off the plateau. On a council road, the single grader driver would probably be the only person to work on the road, but this a crew of eight or more? I wonder why they need that many? (I read an article when I get home that indicates the forestry department just hired a bunch of new people, so maybe this was a training experience?).
At the moment, all the workers are having a discussion, so I roll on by. One man is returning to his ute and says, “Hey, how you going”? I reply, “good, thanks” – the first words to another human being in 48 hours. I could use more days like that!
The roll off the plateau is moderately steep. Not so steep you need to walk if you’ve got rim brakes, but steep enough with a surface slippery enough that I take it slow with brakes applied the whole way down.
The road has a couple places with erosion, but on the whole it is not a road I would complain about. I wonder why they are grading it now? Maybe they have been gifted some recovery stimulus funding and are trying to figure out how to spend it like other government departments.
The forest through here has not been logged too recently. It all burnt in the January 2007 Watchbox Creek fire, so there is diversity in stand height as well as mid-story. It’s a beautiful descent and such a shame the rest of the ride on this road wasn’t the same. I sure hope the Labor government gets re-elected in the next state election so they really can phase out native hardwood logging as promised!
One of the forestry guys goes by and then returns. I stop to let him by both times. When I get to the bottom of the road, I can see he has put up a road closed sign. Just squeezed through! Newly graded roads are awful on the bike, so I timed that well!
The creek bottom is lush and there is much bird call. The valley is fairly wide here, but it is still bound by steeply rising hills. We ride just a little ways upstream to a small campsite with creek access.
We assess which spot will get the most shade for the greatest part of the day and set the tent up there. The mozzies will be an issue here. There is another site higher up the hill not far up the road. That site is bigger and shadier and would be my choice if weren’t supposed to get hot and I didn’t want creek access to stay cool.
It is only 10am. I laze the rest of the day away. I don’t think about work at all. I don’t solve the world’s problems. I don’t come to radical conclusions about anything. In fact, I don’t think I think much at all. It’s a rare thing when my brain actually turns off.
I do look at the maps I’ve got, scoping and thinking about future rides. I’ve found that considering different starting points always opens up new possibilities and ways of thinking outside your original box.
I watch the sun’s trajectory overhead. I watch the shadows of the trees move. There is a breeze and a decent amount of cloud blocking the sun now and again, so it never gets too hot. We’re still at 550 metres here, so we’re likely a couple degrees cooler than home.
I marvel at how quick the day goes. Two hours pass like nothing. How can work days drag even when I’m super-busy yet the day speeds by when I’m doing nothing at all?
It reminds me of my favourite cartoon ever. I loved it so much in high school that I cut it out of the Sunday paper and got it laminated. It’s still my favourite 20 years later.
All I know is that I could do this for so much longer than five days. I am so happy with so little. I so desperately have the genetics to be a hermit and disappear into the forest for months at a time!
Between naps, I think about the recommendation from other people with similar insect-borne diseases of taking six months off work to recover. Supposedly by taking all the stress off the immune system, you can recover more quickly as your immune system is less likely to be suppressed and it can focus on clearing infection. I definitely already feel better than I have since January in just these few days where I’m not stressed and I’m sleeping as much as my body wants. I definitely can’t do what I’ve been doing – it’s pushed me backwards in my health way too far.
My doctor is supportive of this, but did warn that re-entry and the stress of trying to find work could be very stressful and un-do a lot of the good work done. His suggestion is to drop to 10 hours a week. But I can’t pay all of my expenses on that amount (it would be cheaper to quit work and just come out to the forest and car camp for six months!).
But it’s become clear over the past few days that dropping back to three days a week (22.8 hours) is the path forward to get me to the end of my contract (Dec 2021) and through the worst of the pandemic. I won’t save much money, but I can fulfill my contract, not screw over my boss (whom is super awesome) and will ensure I’ve got somewhere to ride out 2021 while the pandemic is still playing out.
My doctor is more than happy to write a medical certificate for however many hours I want to work – as long as it is significantly less than the hours I’m doing now. So I guess I do think about one thing today, but really, it’s just a confirmation of what I’ve been thinking the past six weeks.
I watch the birds flit about between branches in the canopy as the day nears its end and the cicadas quite down. I watch day turn to dusk and then to dark. The colour in the landscape and the heat in the air evaporate. The frog chorus begins – there is much competition between the frogs that sound like old kitchen timers.
The breeze softens and the TV screen becomes a study in form and colour contrast instead of movement of branches and leaves. I am so happy here – the just the bike, the tent, the crew and the most basic of supplies. Time in my tent is my quality of life measure – when I can no longer have nights in the forest in my tent, then that is when my life should conclude. I’m not sure what levels of pain I can endure, but I do know I can endure a gargantuan amount of fatigue. But I am sure I could not endure having to spend the rest of my nights indoors!
The day slips away. It’s 10am, then it’s 2.30pm and then it’s late afternoon. It’s as if someone is tapping the top of an hourglass timer to make the day go faster.
It is hotter today and there are fewer clouds. Those that do come float in from the southeast as the high moves overhead.
The guys and I spend the day alternating between hanging out in the creek and napping in the tent. It is such a tough existence. Having two days of almost non-stop floatie sessions will certainly spoil my crew.
I remove one cicada from my tent fly so it doesn’t start up and cause me to go deaf from being in such close proximity to its calls. While sitting in the creek, I watch another cicada climb a thick blade of grass, decide it likes the thinner blade of grass nearby better and then watch it fall backward with all six legs splayed and flailing when the blade won’t support its weight. The orange ribs and helmet head of the cicadas are impressive, but they are most definitely noisy buggers when they all get going. The cicada finally rights itself and finds a small tree to climb instead.
I do one chore today. I wash my riding shirt and have a bucket bath . The cleanliness and soap smell will last only as long as the first hill tomorrow, but I suppose a gal should make at least some attempt at personal hygiene.
I also think about how I should probably invest in a hiking stove and accessories. For the types of rides I’ve done in the past, I always felt that the weight of the stove, pans, fuel and dry food was always a similar weight to the prepared food I carried. I did not see a significant advantage. But maybe it is somewhere after day 3 that the weights even out and then the stove is an advantage.
So over the course of the day, I resolve to purchase a hiking stove and accessories soon and play with them over the next year so that I can extend these forest trips to 8-10 days. Perhaps I should invest in a food dehydrator, too. Any recommendations or suggestions are welcome!
I also resolve to invest in a PLB – something I was just about to do as I started to do more and more remote rides when I got sick 3.5 years ago. I was not remote on this ride at all, but I only saw one car in three days other than the forestry workers. And I did have two occasions where things could have gone very differently and required emergency assistance.
So some outdoor store is going to be pretty happy to see me come in pretty soon!
That is the sum total of my thinking today. All too soon it is dusk and the day concludes. Man, I could stay out here for weeks. I just need a food drop. I’m not actually feeling fatigued – just tired – it’s amazing what just four days of rest and no stress can do!