There is one final overnight ride in December. Like the rest of the year that was 2020, there is a headwind that wasn’t forecast and the ride goes down among much uncertainty.
The uncertainty places a full-stop of crap at the end of a very busy month.
December was nuts at work as everyone tried to wrap up projects at the last minute. There was an odd sense of urgency met with an unvoiced but evident apathy. Who could really care about eleventh hour data requests after such an exhausting year?
My government department works with three other departments on a daily basis. The feeling I got from everyone (after 10 months of zoom meetings, contingency planning, more contingency planning, new projects on strict, unreasonable timelines created to dish out COVID-19 recovery funds, and all of the normal work that goes with being part of the spokes of an essential service) was that everyone was just dragging themselves or crawling across the final hundred metres of an ultra-endurance race. Everyone was hanging out for a break and just getting themselves to the end of the year!
THE GOOD NEWS
However, December also brought good news personally – I got a decent pay raise after being reclassified and bumped up a pay grade. I was also made permanent instead of being on contract which will set me up for a redundancy payout when our department is restructured, if I choose to stick around that long and don’t choose to be part of the new structure. My body has been begging for a break since 2017….
THE BAD NEWS
December also brought some bad news. Blood test results came back as we try to figure out what is suppressing my immune system and not allowing it to fight off the bartonella. It would appear that the place I’m living has been poisoning me with mould (leaky roof and pipes) and copper (corroding water pipes). The doctor’s advice was to stop drinking the water immediately and move as soon as possible. This sent me on a two-week search for a new place to live. Thankfully, I found something that should be okay and I’ve signed a lease and pick up keys 15 January. That’s as quick as anything over a holiday period.
And so, in the spirit of 2020, after the good news, the bad news and the scramble to find new housing came the tragic news. It hangs over me today, on the 28th, as I ride.
THE TRAGIC NEWS
I was supposed to go see my old cyclist friend for Christmas lunch. I haven’t accepted a Christmas lunch invitation in 18 years. But when I called on Christmas Eve to confirm plans, his phone was off. That was very odd. He has been involved in drug and alcohol rehab for many decades and still supports people through AA – Christmas is a difficult time for many, so he would certainly have his phone on to respond to anyone in crisis.
And so began five days of uncertainty mixed with tragedy.
I do confirm fairly early on that the fatal, head-on accident near Howlong on the 23rd involved my friend, his daughter and his son-in-law (who lived with him – my lunch dates). I do know that his daughter and son-in-law died at the scene.
But I cannot confirm what has happened to my friend. I know he was trapped in the wreckage, freed and taken to hospital in critical condition. But then I just don’t know. I don’t know if he survived or passed away in hospital. With all of the public holidays, the hospital is not answering its visitor info line. I can’t get any information. The only family member phone number I have died in the crash.
It is a purgatory of grief. I am sad for the loss of my friend’s kids. I knew them pretty well from going to see my friend all the time. But I am not sure if I should grieve the loss of my friend. If he has survived, it seems disrespectful to write him off. But, at the same time, I am not sure if surviving critical injuries would be a good thing at 81-years-old. How much could he recover and would he ever regain any quality of life?
Finally, on the 28th, I get through to the hospital and they tell me that they do not have a patient under his name. I finally allow myself to grieve.
And so, on this ride, I don’t take any photos as I go. There are fields of cured grass and harvested hay. There is the feel of summer to capture. But I don’t have any feelings of joy or motivation. I just know my head needs to go for a ride and that this is the only chance in my week off, as hot, unstable weather is forecast right through the next weekend.
And so I slog it out. I feel like crap. I have no energy. Normally, once you get your butt out there, you are glad you went for a ride. But I don’t feel that today. I keep wanting to turn around and go home. My heart is heavy. My legs are heavy. I have to be so careful with pacing my energy consumption – whether that is physical, mental or emotional energy – all of those impact how much energy overall that I have. And the past five days have been completely flat-out emotionally. It is no surprise I feel like a lump of shit pedaling some aluminium.
It doesn’t help that the 30kph wind is a quartering headwind for much of the way. It was supposed to turn to the SSW, but it is still out of the west when I leave home and only turns WSW close to the end. I planned this route to pick up a tailwind and to get away from the zillions of tourists in the region. I don’t get any tourists, but I get plenty of wind. In my face.
I turn over the pedals. We’re heading out through Tarrawingee, toward Boralma, and along the freeway access road toward Chiltern. The plan is to ride up to a nature reserve or into the national park for the night. But ugh, it is all a struggle today. At least it’s windy enough the flies aren’t a nuisance. There is always a silver lining.
Finally, I get up to the turn-off. It’s a new road, but I’m just feeling flat and just want to stop and lie down. Luckily, I don’t have to ride as far as I thought would be required. On the road up to the nature reserve and the national park, there is a “natural features” reserve along the creek, as it winds its way across the lower slopes and flats.
I ride along until I find an open area with vehicle tracks. I find a spot on some grass that is not under any overhanging trees (the wind is still 30kph). I set up the tent. I lie down. I could not care less if a local comes along and questions why I’m here. I’ve got a sob story if required – besides, it’s public land.
Later in the evening, a friend texts me and tells me that they’ve heard that my friend is alive. He was flown to a hospital in Canberra. He has survived.
All day I’ve been grieving loss. Now, I’m not sure what to feel. I’m not sure if it is a good thing that he has survived (for now, at least). I’m sorta happy I might see him again, but in what condition and when? He’ll never return to Corowa. If he does survive, he’ll go live with his other daughter on the South Coast. My head just doesn’t know what to think – but it is just fucking sad no matter the result. The circumstances surrounding all of it are just horrific.
The sunset puts on a short, sharp show of colour. It’s a bit 2020, too. It’s a just a few minutes of intense colour and no lingering beauty – it all goes flat and grey after 3 or 4 minutes of good colour.
Not long after, I curve my body into the contours of the ground, finding a spot for my hip amongst the lumps of earth under the tent. And then I sleep. Exhausted.
I wake in the morning to a dog barking in the distance. The wind is still ruffling the tree tops. It IS out of the south now which means I will slog into it all the way home.
And so I do. There’s not too much traffic out yet – it’s just after 7am – and the world continues its spin. It’s been a really horrible year for many people. For me, it really wasn’t any worse than the past three years. It was just a continuation of how I’ve felt since 2017.
When people carry on about all the things they couldn’t do this year, I don’t have a whole lot of empathy. I haven’t been able to do what I’ve wanted to do for 3.5 years. Boo-hoo if they can’t see their family for 12 months. By the time I’m able to see my family again, it will have been at least 3 years. I won’t see them until sometime in 2022 at the earliest. So, I don’t have much sympathy for those who retained an income and their health this year but were inconvenienced by the pandemic. You must always check your privilege.
However, I am grateful to have had a job where I could work from home this year, even though that meant heaps of exposure to a house that was poisoning me. I’m grateful I have an outstanding boss that advocates for her staff and is understanding of my crappy health. I’m grateful to have good friends and a good relationship with my ex-partner here in Oz. I’m grateful that I can minimize my exposure to others in these COVID times, even if my region has never had any community transmission and has always felt pretty safe (I remain super-vigilant though!). I’m grateful I live in a country that has had a (mostly) exemplary response to the pandemic. I’m grateful it was super easy to find a new place to live and that I’ve got the funds to cover bonds, cleaning, etc without even a thought. I’m grateful I can stay in contact with my parents weekly, even if I can’t visit them.
I think about all of these things, as I put my head down and pedal under the Aussie summer sun. I have some hope that 2021 may be a bit better health-wise. I have a place to ride out the rest of the pandemic in 2021. I have a job that will allow me to still save money, even if I reduce my hours so I can rest more.
This last week of 2020 with all of its sadness and uncertainty was really a fitting end to this year. It was a year that went by without any celebrations or markers. It all mushed together – days and weeks of sameness. It’s one everyone would like to forget but never will. For me it will just blend in with 2018 and 2019 which kinda all mushed together with sameness, too. I think 2021 might be much the same, but I do have hope I can make some progress personally and set myself up for a good 2022.
You’ve always got to look forward. You’ve always got to have hope. You’ve always got to have a plan that goes forth from where you are at and not where you wish you were. And that plan has to be flexible, every touring cyclist knows that.
So goodbye 2020. Let’s get into 2021 and find some new roads to ride.