Squiggly line roads are the best. When you see a squiggly line road on a map, take that one. These roads contour with the land. They curve with the rivers. They follow the ends of ridgeline spurs instead of going over them. They switchback up a pass instead of climbing at a 20 percent grade. They also tend to be very scenic, and part of the adventure is never quite knowing what will unfold around the next bend.
But I think I’ve learned over the past four years, that you do not want to take the squiggly line road to recovery. You want that road to be flat, straight and with an endpoint that is not too far away.
I’ve taken the squiggly route for sure. Just when I think I may have rounded the final corner and a long, beautiful stretch of coasting and happy health is ahead of me, I find another curve. And then once again I don’t know what’s around the next bend.
Last week was the four-year anniversary of contracting West Nile Virus and the tremendous cascade of crap that’s come after. It’s also one month since I quit work with the goal of sleeping and resting a lot.
GOAL – Sleeping and Resting
I have rested and slept a lot. That goal has been accomplished. I have been averaging many, many hours in a horizontal position each day and night. For the first time in four years, I’m sleeping as much as my body wants, and it is paying off in that I don’t feel as fatigued and crappy upon waking as I have most days in recent history. I still have some days where I sleep most of the day, but those aren’t many, and I feel very confident that quitting work to rest is the best thing I could have done. I think I forgot what it was like to actually feel decent at times.
GOAL – Outside Every Day
I also have the “outside every day” goal – to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day. I wanted to do this to ensure I was out there getting some Vitamin D and getting myself out of indoor environments for at least a little bit each day. It’s easy to hole up inside in winter.
However, Nature likes to play a good joke. The past four years, our winters have all had below normal precipitation, even during La Nina when they kept promising us rain. Last year, as I worked from home, there were many sunny days when I would have much preferred being out on the bike instead of sitting in front of the computer.
But, oh no, this year, June and July have been incredibly cold and rainy. Week after week have had forecasts that looked similar to those below. Mushrooms have popped up in the yard and mossy green is growing on shady cement surfaces that haven’t dried in six weeks. We will more than double the average rainfall for July!
It’s also been a cold winter (for here, anyway). We generally only have a few days over winter when the high temp does not make it to Celsius double digits. But this year, we’ve already had nine!
This means that Outside Every Day has been more of a challenge than I anticipated. However, I am proud to say that I’ve managed. Some days it just involves bundling up in a puffer jacket, sitting in a lawn chair under the building overhang and watching the dance of clouds and the slant of rain falling from the sky.
It is not all bad, though. It can be meditative to watch the trees behind my place sway in the wind, the individual leaves rippling, the branches playing a game of resistance, yield and rebound. I’m trying to get better at mindfulness so that I can build up to meditation. I really suck at those, so I’m practicing by concentrating on the tree movement and letting myself lose all focus except for the force of wind.
The ironbark trees are in flower, so it has also been a joy to watch the honeyeaters come to feed. The pink blossoms dot the pale green leaves and I wonder how they choose just which flower to feed upon.
GOAL – Vaccination
The other good news is that I am fully vaccinated and Pfizer didn’t take me down like it could have. I’ve read reports of others with similar issues to me being pretty incapacitated with fatigue for about 10-14 days. In a good sign that my immune system is in better shape than I’d hoped, I only had a bad headache and an extra veneer of fatigue on top of the normal fatigue for two days after the second shot.
This also means that I am not restricted to NSW for a bike tour in spring. I don’t need to hang around that state to get vaccinated. If I want to do the loop I outlined in VIC in my previous post, then that is on the table. Sydney is currently experiencing a pretty nasty outbreak of the delta variant of COVID, and it could be well into September before they bring it under control. The NSW outbreak also seeded an outbreak in Melbourne that VIC, being hard and fast on the lockdown button unlike NSW, got under control in a couple weeks. But those uncertainties and lockdowns look to stay with us until at least the end of 2021, so I think the plan is to just go anyway, just make sure to stay within whatever state I choose!
In the meantime, I’ve decided to set another goal – to climb the seven peaks around Albury-Wodonga. The local Parklands group looks after all of the nature reserves left over from the 1970s when Albury Wodonga was picked to become a growth centre and major focus of decentralization. That never really happened on the scale envisioned, but the reserve network remains.
Some time ago they had a Seven Peaks Challenge as a fundraiser, so there are trail maps available for each ‘peak’. They are not really ‘peaks’, just the hills surrounding town. This goal should be fairly easy on my body and my complete lack of fitness.
And this is important because…
I’m on that awful squiggly road to recovery and have found that I have not turned the final corner. I turned a corner, but there’s more shit ahead.
I’ve had lots of digestive problems since the beginning of May, about a month after I started taking that nasty colestyramine I mentioned in the last post. I had nausea and vomiting and a whole bunch more.
It got worse and worse. I could eat less and less. I lost 10 pounds of weight in 3 months. I did not need to lose any weight. The pain increased, and the nausea became something like seasickness. My appetite disappeared. And then the pain became constant – a gnawing, burning thing in the epigastric region. And then the pain became a lot worse – 24 hours a day with varying levels of intensity. Sometimes it would feel like my entire upper abdomen was being crushed or squeezed in a vice. I would vomit up more than small amounts of food.
Sometime in July, the pain shifted so that the epigastric region feels like one giant knotty lump all the time with nausea and gnawing pain here and there. A constant sharp, stabby pain developed in the right upper quadrant and has not ceased. And then the pain started to radiate to my back, so that my mid-upper back is in such pain that I cannot sit for very long and sometimes cannot stand up straight.
Several nights I wondered just how bad the pain should be before you go to the emergency department. Those nights it was hard to breathe with the pain. But I decided I would only go if I also developed a fever. So I’ve just done a ‘grin and bear it’ approach and spent days and nights trying to find some position that is comfortable, at least for a while.
So, my first month of “relaxation” has actually been full of pain. I’ve been avoiding the bike as it causes me to breathe too deeply and that causes pain and nausea.
Somewhere in all of the crap, I visited my GP, who sent me for blood tests and an upper abdominal ultrasound. Like almost all the tests that came back over the past four years, the ultrasound indicates I’m fine.
I AM NOT FINE.
So the doctor has referred me to a surgeon for a gastroscopy and maybe some sort of fancy scan. Only my appointment isn’t until 23 August! I continue to be in a fair bit of pain and don’t know how I’m going to last until then – and that is just the initial consult! Who knows how long I’ll have to wait for the gastroscopy.
GOAL – Peak 1 – Huon Hill
BUT, after days and days of rain, the forecast had one sunny, warm day in it this past Tuesday. I decided I must do something. But what to do? It was the last day of VIC lockdown from the latest covid outbreak, and restrictions meant I could not travel more than 5 kms from home. And I needed something easy on the body and within mobile phone range – lest I perforate or tear whatever organ is giving me so much trouble.
So I decided we should re-climb Huon Hill – the hill that’s behind my place with the mobile phone tower – since it is part of the 7 Peaks Challenge. I walk over to that reserve and meander the lower slopes fairly often, but surely I could do that steep climb to the top if I went very slowly.
And so I did.
It was warm enough to sweat a bit and the ground was beautifully squishy. My part of Oz doesn’t do squishy very often, so it was a treat to slop through mud!
I took the climb very slowly and enjoyed the sun. We’ve had so few sunny days this winter! I inched my way up. My cardio fitness was not as terrible as I thought it might be. The pain wasn’t unbearable.
I spent an hour reclining on a rock on top, basking in the sun like an ectothermic reptile. Then, when the wind made things a bit too cool, I headed back down. It was not a hike. It was a stroll.
By the time I made it home, I was very ouch-y. Gravity seems to compress whatever organ is not happy. Sitting is hard and I can only manage a couple hours of that. Walking is better, but even that is a bit much after a while. But still, we got out there and made the most of the one sunny day. And we knocked off peak number one of seven.
GOAL – Peak 2 – McFarlanes Hill
There is another break in the weather on Friday – it looks like there will be about a 12-hour window of sun. So let’s go grab another one of those ‘peaks’!
I drive the 10 kilometres across town to the parking area for the Hunchback Hill Mountain Bike Park. I’ve never explored much of Wodonga, having always lived in Albury or surrounds, and the drive confirms my preconceived idea of Wodonga. It’s really just a bunch of suburbs – more like a suburb of Albury on the other side of river than a real city of its own.
So once past the never-ending neighbourhood entrances, we drive up Felltimber Creek Road in the shadow of Hunchback Hill. There’s just one car in the parking area when I arrive, but this is a very popular spot and there’s been a lot of debate about its management (e.g. the dog walkers and the mountain bikers have some conflicts to say the least, even though the mountain bikers have built and maintained the trails).
The sun is out, but it’s not as warm as Tuesday. The high will be 14C about the time I return to the car. The strengthening northerly makes it a bit cool, and I never take off my thermal top. Still, it is a gorgeous winter day and we are making the most of this brief period of clear skies!
We take off through the trees along Coyles Road. The tightly bunched hills have steep tributaries and it feels quite closed in until you reach a small saddle and get up into the gentle rolls themselves. I didn’t bring a map but find a mountain bike track that winds up the southern side of McFarlanes Hill. We switchback on the well-graded single-track, weaving back and forth up the hill.
There are views out over the hills – over to the Baranduda Range to the southeast and over more hills to the southwest. Climb over them and you’ll eventually end up in the Indigo Creek valley and all the trails in the national park near Chiltern.
We can also look west to Klinges Hill. If we weren’t somewhat incapacitated, we’d head up there today, too. The trail heads west from the saddle whereas the trail to McFarlanes Hill heads east. But today is just McFarlanes Hill – I’ll be in too much pain to do both.
We crest the western end of the ridge and get views over West Wodonga and northeast to Albury. Red Light Hill in Lavington stands out among the haze in the distance, and just down below is the newer petrol station at the messed-up Murray Valley Highway intersection. All that haze gives the impression that the earth is breathing – condensation at the surface rising into the air, the damp earth exhaling all that soil moisture.
We wind along the top of the ridge, but there are trees at the summit so there are no good views of the main bits of Wodonga or over to the neighbourhood where I live. I stop for a water break at the top and then meander downhill on the Quartz mountain bike track. It weaves in and out of the stringy barks and along the southern hillside until it joins with the fire management track that runs between McFarlanes and Hunchback hills.
I slop along this track, the earth oozing water that gravity pulls downhill. There’s water trickling, burbling, gushing, squishing, squashing, slopping, running and cascading down hill. It’s an adjective-laden land of sodden bliss.
I have to negotiate a couple small streams that would normally be nothing but little indentations in the earth that you wouldn’t even notice. I stop to let the guys enjoy the water falling over one rock while I drink some more water.
Then we continue over the gentle hills back to the main fire track, downhill through the trees and back to the car. It’s been a good, short walk and 2.5 hours out absorbing Vitamin D. We’ll take it – it’s not the level of adventure preferred, but right now, something is better than nothing.
Just after I get home, I note that the sky covers with high cloud. Wow – did we ever get the timing perfect today!
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
The jonquils and daffodils have been in bloom for weeks. The wattle trees are starting to burst with yellow flowers. Two days ago I walked outside and the buzz of bees created a noisy static in the tree at the end of the driveway. It has started to flower and the bees are all over it. Literally. Every time I go for a walk, I wonder when I’ll get swooped by a magpie. We’re well and truly into that season and I don’t know their haunts in this town.
So spring is starting to spring forth. We’ve made it through the bulk of winter which is such a compact season here.
I’ll continue to sleep and rest. I’ll go hard with the l-glutamine and slippery elm bark in a 4-8 week blitz of trying to stop the irritation in my gut lining. I’ll ride when I can and walk on the other days. I’ll get outside every day and I’ll keep marking off the ‘peaks’. As always, I’ll keep pushing as far as my body allows.
I’m still aiming for a 6-week bike tour in October, likely in VIC, since NSW is unlikely to have the COVID cases down enough in Sydney by then to want to cross the border. There is a long way to go from lying flat out in pain to riding a fully-loaded bike all over western Victoria, but I AM DETERMINED TO GET THERE.
I am a cyclist. And I ride. I am turning that final corner!