10 August 2021
30 kms (18.5 miles)
Some moments in time are fleeting – a brief pause, a stuttering breath, or a whirlwind of events that pass so fast you wonder what just occurred. Sometimes you know the moment will be fleeting and you engage with it fully knowing it will not last. Other fleeting moments hold some pregnant pause of potential but slip on by before giving birth which leaves you to wonder just what might have been.
Freedom of movement in Australia has been a rather fleeting thing since the start of COVID. International borders were slammed shut, as if we saw the virus coming and rolled up the drawbridge and retreated to the confines of the castle.
State borders open and close with the same frequency of legs in a red-light district. The mere whiff of a new case sparks yet another lockdown. A new case can be announced at a 10am news conference and the lockdown will start that evening. It makes planning anything at all absolutely impossible.
And so it goes. Australia has the OECD’s worst vaccine roll-out. We sit right down at number 50. Our federal government has thoroughly botched the acquisition and distribution of vaccines – selling out the population for the cheapest option and not having a Plan B when the cheap-o option started killing people. Eight months into the year, and the government which claimed that ‘vaccination is not a race’, has not lifted its game. The vacuous, wishy-washy, indeterminate decision-making, if it can be called that, of the Prime Minister makes him look like he has the leadership skills of a mutinied ship captain. Could you really do any worse? Well, not in the OECD countries.
And so the lockdowns remain necessary while the population is still predominately unvaccinated and vulnerable to the super speedy delta variant. Everyone in Victoria can tell you just exactly what IS and IS NOT within a 5km radius of their home, since that is the distance you are allowed to travel for essential items while in lockdown.
So Tuesday morning dawns, four days into the 6th lockdown (3rd this year) of COVID. But, what is this? Regional Victoria is being released from lockdown early! There are no cases outside of Melbourne (my area has never had community transmission, and the last person from our area to pick up the virus in Melbourne and come home with it was more than a year ago). So we are free!!
‘Tis a fleeting moment for sure. That delta variant is speedy and sneaky and Sydney is leaking cases like a sieve. Our freedom won’t last, but knowing that fact means we won’t let the moment pass without making the most of it.
GOAL – PEAK 3 – MAHERS HILL – 28 kms
Our plan today includes going to pick up another one of our “seven peaks” that is outside of my 5km radius. Let’s go grab it while we can!! This one is 13 kms east of us.
Two weeks of heaps of glutamine and slippery elm bark translate into considerably less nausea, a cessation of vomiting and the ability to eat a bit more in one sitting. The pain is still there and constant but not as intense most of the time. I can sit for about two hours now before the pain gets bad enough to want to lie down.
So I’m keen to head off on the bike and see how that goes. I haven’t been able to ride in weeks, and I really, really need my fix.
It’s cool but not cold. There’s a light breeze. The sun angle is increasing and it is certainly starting to feel like spring. I saw the first cherry blossoms yesterday and there are magnolias all over just ready to burst.
We’re heading out on the rail trail – I think flat-ish will be okay for my guts. To be on the safe side, I haven’t eaten anything today, so there will be nothing but water to puke. A banana is packed away to eat at the summit if I feel like it.
There are a couple of walkers on the rail trail but once we reach the edge of Wodonga, I have the trail to myself. We make our way through Killara – another growth area that I cannot understand why people would want to live there (it’s got lots of pollution from the army activities, frequently stinks from the compost plant, and also frequently stinks like sewer). The homes are all on tightly bunched blocks set back from the main highway just above the river floodplain.
I join the highway here. My memory is that there is an acceptable shoulder all the way out to Mahers Road. The Kiewa River is running really high at the moment and I want to gauge its depth here to give me an idea of whether the rail trail might be impassable for the return trip. It runs through the floodplain and goes under when the river hits minor flood level.
The river is running high but not out of its banks. I assert my spot on the road and pedal as quickly as I can over the series of bridges that do not have a shoulder. I feel good on the bike though it’s obvious to me that I haven’t ridden in a bit.
There is one gentle hill to climb out of the floodplain before we can turn down gravel Gullifers Lane and link back up with the rail trail. It’s a peaceful ride through the red gums accompanied by the Kermit chorus in almost deafening proportions. There is water in every little low-lying puddle or swale and the frogs are out in abundance.
We turn off the rail trail at Pollards Road – just because we’ve not ridden this road before. It sails out through the bright green paddocks with views to the Baranduda Range. I get the timing right and only see one gravel truck coming out of the quarry before I turn off on Newmans Lane.
We weave through the trees overlooking the home and livestock paddocks of several fancy gate homes. Livin’ the small block rural dream. The road is dirt but in great condition and I can let it fly on the downhills. There is only one short steep uphill that is very, very painful – all the rest is manageable. I really can’t engage abdominal muscles without them pressing into whatever hurts, but there is only 30 seconds or so of severe pain and nausea and then we crest that hill.
We cross over Maher’s Road and head up Lees Lane. It is a 6-7% grade for a few hundred metres to the trackhead, but I gear down and it is not too hard to get up there.
I maneuver the bike through the pedestrian gate and lock it on the inside of the new fence. It would not seem a high crime area, but I’d still rather make it a tad more difficult if someone nefarious did happen along.
The track heads gently up through a paddock. There is a home on acreage off to the left. You can’t really see the house as it is hidden behind the huge dirt mounds of a dirt bike track. A small bulldog comes out running, barking and pacing the fenceline. The property also has several horse trailers, a machinery shed, three or four horse shelter sheds and a bunch of crap lying around. Livin’ the rural bogan dream.
I pass through the next pedestrian gate and the track circles around a hill and then up to a small saddle. We haven’t had rain in several days, but the earth is still squishy as the water runs out and downslope.
As we pop over the saddle, Lake Hume comes into view. How magnificent! It’s up to 90 percent and looking good! The dam only fills once or twice every decade, and this is becoming less frequent with climate change. When Nigel and I first moved to Albury in 2004, the dam was low, got up to 85% in 2005 and stayed super-low from 2006-2009. It was a looooong walk out to the water from the parking areas then (if you didn’t drive down to the water’s edge).
The sun is warm and pleasant. There are no flies. There are no snakes yet. I have not been swooped by a magpie. The only sounds are the upset cows bawling in nearby paddocks as I pass and the growl of engines far down below on the highway.
We work our way up and up. There are only two steep pinches in the 4.5 kms to the top though the ascent is pretty much constant. The views are outstanding in all directions. The dam looks so good being full.
I love looking out in each direction and knowing the landscape so well. Even if you can’t see them, I know where all the roads run and what it looks like from that road. I’ve ridden nearly all of them. I know the names of the hills and ranges and where geographic points of interest lie. I know where the faults run and the geomorphology of the landscape.
I know this place like the back of my hand. It is home. I feel a sense of place here, and I don’t really have a desire to permanently live elsewhere. I’m comfortable here, and when I’ve lived elsewhere in Corowa and Milawa 45 minutes away, they never gave me the same sense of home. Of course, those are definitely part of home and part of the region, they are just not quite the centre of my preferred radius, I suppose.
It is just such a perfect day to be out. I could take 9 months of the year just like this. But Oz isn’t a land of temperate days and nights, it is a land of extremes. So even without the threat of a lockdown at any time, you’ve got to live up the days like this.
These are the things I think about as I climb up and then back down the hill. We’ve lived in the Albury area since 2004. 17 years is a long time to live in one place. A couple years ago I knew I finally had to make the decision about purchasing a home or unit. I had a deposit and all the other stuff you need to qualify for a loan.
But what I just didn’t have was the desire. The financial workings weren’t entirely supportive of the idea either – as long as I did not rent extravagant places that took up a large proportion of income (because at some point paying off a home is cheaper than renting). Then the summer of 2019-20 hit. Hard.
After the Black Summer bushfires, I was convinced more than ever that I did not want to be stuck to one place. Summers like that will become more and more frequent. Insurance and home maintenance is only going to become more unaffordable. If you discount my bikes, I could almost replace all of my contents for the cost of one year of home contents insurance even now! And who wants to be stuck somewhere when the smoke settles in – if I’d had a van that summer, I could have just scooted off somewhere less smoky.
So I invested the house deposit and turned my back on that idea. I have no FOMO, just a great sense of relief that I am not caught in that race and everything that comes with it. All along my plan has been to buy a little Hiace van upon retirement and just travel whichever way the wind blows. Van life has become a very popular thing – but my dreams predate that fad by about 25 years. The Van Lifers tend to have much bigger, plush vans that I wouldn’t really desire anyway, though. Nigel’s uncle travelled and bushwalked all over eastern Oz in a Kombi van right up through his 80s. That is the sort of simplicity I seek.
So here I am, leisurely walking along the ridgeline near ‘home’, pondering the beauty of the region and my fortunes to live here. But yet, in the back of my head, I know that my home is really the road and my tent. That is where I feel the happiest. This region will always be ‘base camp’ though, and I think I will always circle back here until the end of my days.
Just as I get back to the bike, there are two women getting ready to head out on the track. They have four dogs which are JUST under control on leash. Do people with dogs have a higher proportion of shoulder injuries? Those dogs just keep jerking and jerking the one poor woman forward!
We climb a couple of rollers on Mahers Road which spits us back out at the Murray Valley Highway. We cross the highway and pick up the bike path that takes us over to the Lake Hume reserve at Kookaburra point. For a weekday, there’s a fair number of people driving through the reserve or picnicking, but I’m sure everyone else has the same idea that I do. Get out while you can!! It is a gorgeous day, and the lake is not full very often.
The guys and I find a spot away from other groups, fishermen and boaters and relax for a bit. It’s been warm enough for shorts and a tshirt today, but it is still cool with that strengthening wind when the sun ducks behind a cloud. I lay stretched out on the sand for a bit – the abdominal pain has been increasing and I need to stretch out and take the pressure off those organs for a bit. I need to redirect gravity to a different angle of pull.
Supposedly they are starting pre-releases of water from the dam today to allow for more airspace for what is expected to be a wetter than average spring. I don’t have the gumption to ride over to the dam wall today for a view though. That would add another 10-12 kms and some hills. This will be enough.
The guys get a good, long float. I have really deprived them of anything fun for a few months. I’m pretty sure Verne was just about to start advertising on facebook groups or cycling websites for a new crew to join. Hopefully, this has convinced him to stick around.
We head back home on the rail trail. I don’t really want to rejoin the busy highway in the afternoon when there is more traffic, so when I come to the “trail closed” sign at Gullifers Lane, I ride past it. If the trail becomes impassable, I can easily come back – it would only add three kms or so to the total. I also want to see the floodplain full of water, as I’ve not seen that before on this river. Perhaps I’ll spy some turtles, too.
So we ride on and come up to the long boardwalks. The frogs are loud, the birds are, too. Water pools in old oxbows and anabranches. Every depression is soggy, sodden or full of water. The sun filters through the leaves and creates dappled, dancing shade on the water surface. Bow lines trail ducks who push away from my presence. It’s peaceful and there are no mosquitoes.
The river runs high through here, too, but it’s still in its banks and the trail is passable. There’s a low depression on the other side of the bridge that has some standing water, but it’s definitely still passable. I imagine it would have required riding through some shallow water a few days ago though.
The kookaburras are really going at it – a verbal chortle face-off from both sides of the river. I stop on the bridge and listen to them and watch the flow of water for a bit. It’s been such a good day!
Then it’s back home the rest of the way on the rail trail through the open fields, industrial areas and the army base. We’ve had a great day, ticked off another ‘peak’ and took great advantage of the freedom to move.
GOAL – Short peak – BEARS HILL
The weather remains good Wednesday. Today will be the warmest high temp (20C) since last autumn. There’s rain forecast tonight, but there is a good window for a hike today. The clouds will clump ahead of the front, but they’re actually appreciated. I think it would be a bit sweaty if it were sunny. There’s plenty of months of that to come – no need to rush it!
The plan is to go grab Bear’s Hill – or at least the civilian high point of it. The Dept of Defence owns most of the hill as part of the Bandiana army base, but there’s a chunk of the hill that’s council land. I see this hill from my bedroom window, so I figure we should go crawl up the part that we can, just to be able to say that we did. I’ll take my shopping bag with me so I can stop at ALDI on the way back.
It’s not a formal hike, and most of it goes through the sprawling, ugly suburbs of the Australian Dream, so I’ll tell the story through pictures. I’m happy that I’ve marked off another one of the hills, even if it’s just some random point on the side of the ridge instead of the peak itself.
So today ends up being about a 10 km walk through town, up the hill, to ALDI and then back home. The day gets windier as it goes, and it’s nice to feel the warmth of a 20 degree day (the average high in August is 14.8).
It looks like there is a block of decent weather coming up starting Saturday the 14th. Forecasts have highs around 15 degrees and lows around 3. Can we squeeze in some camping before we get saddled with another lockdown? Can my body handle a little bit of a fully-loaded ride? Stay tuned! As I said earlier in the post, it’s impossible to make plans here as things can change within hours, but maybe we can sneak out before delta causes another reduction in freedom!