The Waiting – September Challenge Peaks – Happy Spring

1-2 September 2021

30 kms (on foot)

What is the scent of spring? Is it freshly mown grass? Is it flowers blooming? Is it the scent of sheets hung on the line instead of coming from a dryer? Or is it, like in the town where I went to uni, the smell of moist cow, horse, geese and dog shit as the ground starts to thaw?

For me, it is none of those. The ground never freezes here, and we mow our lawns more in winter than in summer, so mown grass is not a new scent in spring. The same goes for flowers – they bloom more in winter than summer here, so the scent is not novel in spring-time August. And I hang my sheets out year-round.

No, the scent of spring for me is… sunscreen. There is only about 2.5 months of the year when the UV index is such that sunscreen is not recommended where I live. And so, after that brief pause over winter, the slightly acrid, slightly bitter smell of SPF 50 jolts me into the realization that we are, once again, on our way to the insanely hot temperatures of summer.

There is something about the smell of sunscreen that instantly takes you back to summers of your youth (if you are a Gen Xer or later, I suppose!). The scent evokes memories of being slathered with white goop by your mom before bounding off to play in the water or hike down a trail. My memories are of these small white bottles with red or blue branding that were the highest SPF available at the time: 8 or 10!

These are the things I’m thinking about as I rub that white smelly stuff over my face, neck and arms this morning. And, how is it that the stuff still smells the same 40 years later? How can they not have figured out how to make it smell nice like shampoo?

Today is the first day of spring. And it is the first day since last May that the temperatures will crack 20C. Today and tomorrow are supposed to be just perfect: sunny, moderate breeze and 23C and 24C. So I’ve got to go take advantage of that!

We’re still in lockdown, though with no cases here, I think most people are just keeping with the spirit of the restrictions instead of following it to the letter. There is certainly a lot more traffic on the roads than those days when we were all afraid to leave the house. So, I’ll follow the spirit by staying within my 5kms, but stretching the 2-hour exercise limit out by a bit.

Circumnavigation of Huon Hill – 14 kms

Blue dots added to show rest of circumnavigation.

I take off, on foot, for a 14km circumnavigation of Huon Hill – the hill behind my place that I’ve climbed three times from two different directions.

The peaks of Huon Hill rise up behind this estate.

After working my way through Silky Oaks Estate and Alpine Views Estate, the road turns to dirt on the lower, southern slopes of Huon Hill. The hill rises steeply to the north, the fenced-off Army base lies to the south. The green grass is almost a neon colour everywhere.

Huon Hill to the left; Army base to the right.

Once past the Army base, we pass another one of those new suburbs where the houses are crammed in nearly roof-to-roof. The sound of dogs barking echoes off the colourbond fences and the sound of screeching children carries far. Not only do you get to pay more than $500,000 to live on top of your neighbours, this neighbourhood has a stream running right through it with that PFAS contamination, too. I guess you don’t need to worry about it in the soil though, because no one has enough of it to really plant a garden anyway.

Can’t imagine living in all of that, but that hill in the background is Mahers Hill – the one we climbed with views of all the water in the big dam.
But you can see the snow at Mt Bogong from here though.

We round the southeastern edge of the hill and make our way to the park entrance before climbing over a fence and heading down into the floodplain. We meander past billabongs and depressions filled with frogs who are calling out in great numbers.  

Road entrance to Huon Hill reserve. That road goes to the top.
I think they will eventually find that, like lead, there is no ‘safe’ level of PFAS in water. Current measures are probably not conservative enough.
Kiewa River floodplain with lots of standing water and many, many frogs.

We reach the Kiewa River and follow it downstream. We wind through shady regrowth and sunny open spaces. We pass large red gums and flowering acacia. It’s definitely a joy to be alive today.

The smell of the riverine habitat could be anywhere. Traipsing through vegetation next to a watercourse smells similar in all the places I’ve ever been. I think it might be a bit like describing red wine. All red wine smells similar, there’s just hints of different aromatics depending on vintage and variety.

And so it goes with the smell of a river. They all have the same background scent of damp earth, of mud and clay and sand, of algae and moss. But rivers in Indiana have highlights of flowering hibiscus or other deep green plants and always a hint of fish. Rivers in Colorado have hints of evergreens and cottonwood. And the river here… well there’s that smell of dank, damp earth overlain by hints of eucalyptus and flowering wattle.

About 7kms into it, I find a nice bench in the shade to have a horizontal rest. My guts are not getting better, though not getting worse either, and after a few hours of gravity smooshing things together, I need to lie down for a while.

Of course, the mozzies are out and about, but I brought repellent for those ‘bug’gers today! 

The guys go down to the river edge to enjoy their prime frog and turtle habitat while I contemplate how organs can cause so much pain without any moving parts.

Lean on me

Once we resume the walk, we peel off from the river, cross a paddock full of curious cows and then follow a singletrack up a revegetated gully. It’s the first day since last autumn where it is nice to be in the shade rather than the sun.

As the gully heads left, the trail climbs up and out and onto an open hillside. A magpie flies up above me, hovers high above and returns to a tree. So I know what’s coming!

When you don’t have a helmet for protection, a backpack will do.

I zip the guys into the bag (normally they hang in the top pocket unzipped), so that they are not exposed when I tilt them toward the danger. Then I pull the backpack over my head, wiggle through the pedestrian gate, and then commence a brisk walk up the open hillside. The magpie swoops but doesn’t hit me. I pick up the pace up the hill. Deep breathing causes me a heap of pain and nausea at the moment, but we get out of the maggie’s territory quickly.

Sorry for the gasping – I did just evade a magpie and I have no physical fitness.

I reach a trail junction with the decision to either head left and climb to the summit of the hill, or head right and circumnavigate the hill. I’ve seen a fair number of cars on the road leading to the summit, and I’ve been up there several times before, so I think I’ll stay away from the people up there. I’ve not gone all the way around the hill before, so today is the day for that!

The Timberline Trail will take us around the flanks of the hill.

We meander along, up and down the flanks of the hill. It is pleasant and I’m not hurting terribly. What a great day not to be stuck inside on zoom calls for work!

I take a 45 minute horizontal rest at one point and get much pleasure from watching those huge wedgies soaring on the thermals overhead.

Rocks lump out of the earth all over the hill, and I enjoy looking at the different types of rocks and the sizes of crystals. Some of the granite was obviously very, very hot magma with teeny tiny crystals – others are much larger and lumpier and so indicate cooler temperatures. There is metamorphic rock – sedimentary rock that has been transformed under great heat and pressure. I need to read more about these hills – we are quite close to a major fault line here and I’d like to better understand the geological sequence of the different rocks that outcrop here.

Some of the rocks up there bounce. You can’t tell the kangaroos from the rocks in a pic, but there are about 20 kangaroos up there.

After a wetter than average June and July, August was warmer and drier than normal. So the ground is not squishy anymore and the puddles are evaporating. The dams, those translucent eyeballs of the earth, are all still brimming full, however.

I often come over to this area to bask in the sun on cool days. It’s about a 45 min walk from home to the boulders below the arrow.
View from the boulders – not from today.

I negotiate the herds of cattle as I wind toward the reserve entrance. The bulls eye me warily and I tread carefully. I’m never bothered by cows, but I don’t really like being in the bull paddock! But they are docile enough, just watching me with a turn of their head and not showing any aggression.

The track has dried out and is no longer squishy.

Further on, there is a pretty brand-new calf curled up on the track. It’s not shiny, slick and wet, but it’s definitely a newbie. Another new-ish calf is licking its ear, and I walk wide of the little thing, but it’s mama doesn’t show me much interest. She doesn’t show the calf much interest either! That is my sort of cow – if it were me, I’d be thinking, “oh, please, take that thing away – I don’t want it!”

Older calf licking baby calf. Mama cow ahead is not too concerned about my presence.

Once to the edge of the reserve, it’s back down through the neighbourhood, past the pub, the motel, the 7-11 construction site, a shopping centre, McDonalds, Bunnings and KFC. Then on up through my neighbourhood and home. It’s been a great way to enjoy a beautiful day within my 5km radius.

I feel good when I get home – not like I’ve walked 14kms. If only I could have had a good, long rest like I’ve had the past two months when I first got sick. I wonder how much of the cascade of crap could have been avoided. My upper GI tract is all screwed up, but my energy levels are definitely improving. We’ll take it!

Goal – Federation Hill – 16 kms

I wake up feeling decent. That’s good. I’ve scraped myself out of bed more days than not the past four years. My muscles don’t hurt from over-use. I don’t feel any energy lag from the walk yesterday. I still have all the bartonella/oxalate pain in my legs, but that always gets better with movement. So I think we are good to go for another long walk today!

Our path today. The green hill off to the left of pic is McFarlanes Hill which we’ve done. You can also see Huon Hill to the right of the start point that we walked around yesterday.

Our plan is to summit Federation Hill. It is the 4th of the 7 summits we have set as a goal. It will be about 8 kms to walk over there and up to the top. So I’m thinking it will be 1.5 hours walking over there, 1.5 hours resting in a horizontal position on top, and then a 1.5 hour walk home.

On goes the sunscreen and then off we head into that glorious spring sunshine!

Our walk takes us on our normal route to ALDI which follows the old highway and then past an industrial/commercial area with cabinet-makers, a gym and multiple businesses catering to the needs of your car (e.g. brakes, muffler, tyres). Then it’s on over the creek, through a roundabout and on past a new housing estate and more shops.

View from edge of my neighbourhood over to Federation Hill (red arrow) that we are climbing today and McFarlanes Hill (orange arrow) that we climbed a few weeks ago.

I turn off the bigger road and then head west past old grid-pattern neighbourhoods with homes on large blocks set well back from the street with brick and wire metal front fences. Then it’s past a public housing area – small, boxy houses on small blocks – built in the 1960s.  

The pedestrian bridge art over House Creek features all sorts of trail users, from cyclists to golf carts to joggers to roller-bladers.
Wodonga has a really nice and huge skatepark. There are two more bowls off to the right. This park and surrounding neighbourhoods took shape in the late 1970s. Skate park is from around 2012 I think.

Then once we cross House Creek we walk through neighbourhoods developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Albury-Wodonga was chosen by the federal government of the day as a main centre of decentralization in the 1970s. A Development Corporation was established, large areas of land purchased or designated for future development and investment made in industry and planning.

Consequently, both cities have well-designed growth areas from this period. The neighbourhoods are all set back and facing away from main thoroughfares such that the neighbourhoods have quiet no-through streets and the main thoroughfares are wide (with room for future road widening) and nicely landscaped. There are neighbourhood centres, usually with attached childcare centres, and a leafy feel. The housing blocks aren’t as big as the post-war boom blocks, but they are still large enough for kids to play and for trees to be planted.

There are heaps of these linear parks with bike paths following the creeks in this part of town. Each park has a sign explaining who the park was named after.

I really like the feel of those areas and the architecture of those houses – back in a time when homes still had eaves and room for a Hills Hoist out the back. Those neighbourhoods have such greater aesthetic appeal and feeling of livability than anything built since 2000 or so.

I like the less-cramped feel of this part of town. There are neighbourhoods on either side of this road that face away from the road and a wide road reserve with a bike path and nice landscaping.

Or maybe it’s just because I was imprinted as a kid born in the 1970s to like that sort of neighbourhood since that is what I grew up in and what feels most safe and comfortable to me.

New artwork on the underpass featuring creatures found at a nearby park with a pond.
Of course, our crew was particularly attracted to the turtle.

We cross under another main road and the houses are a wee bit younger, but they still have that leafy, livable feel. We follow one of the many walking paths that follow the creeks through the nature reserves.

Heading up one of the nice linear parks.

We head upward until we pop out at the base of the hill.

We’re heading up the hill ahead.

And then we start the climb. Steeply. Slowly. Deep breathing and abdominal muscle engagement are very painful for me, so instead of walking quickly, hunched forward and into the hill, I do my best to stroll. It is hard to “stroll” on a steep uphill, but I inch my way up without too much nausea.

I am in so much trouble for not bringing the floaties. See that little dam down there. Very accessible. Very float-able. Red dot is where we live. Hill behind is the one we walked around yesterday. Yellow dot shows Mahers Hill in the distance and orange dot is Bears Hill – both of which we’ve done.

Once to the top, I can see the high point off to the west. So we head over there. It’s warm enough to be sweaty today. Not gross sweaty, but enough sweat that you hope it’s getting some toxins out and clearing some pores.

See our path going up that hill over there in the distance? That’s the high point.

We wander along the crest of the hill and through some cows that are either curious, hungry or angry. Several of them start moving toward me and following me. So I use the technique my old uni roommate, who is a large animal vet and very familiar with these sorts of beasts, used to employ when we were hiking together in the western US. I raise my arms and yell “Hey!”.  That takes care of it. They back off and stand there, long strings of drool trailing from their mouths.

It’s sorta like “the hills are alive” scenery, only Australian style with drier vegetation and lower slopes.

I come upon another newbie calf curled up by the trail, only this one’s mother is much more interested in me and the well-being of her baby than that “meh” cow yesterday. She starts walking toward me at a decent pace, so I sidestep wider and move forward more quickly. 

Funnily enough, while taking a video of the 360 degree view, I see a female jogger have a very similar encounter. Her tactic is to raise her hands up in the air, like the cow has a gun aimed at her, and jog in place with legs pumping as she then takes a wide path through the grass as I did.

The wind is pretty strong up top and it feels good after the sweaty climb. Yep, we are well on our way out of winter. I find a nice spot in the grass near a rock outcrop, lie down and prop my head up on my backpack. I’m pretty ouchy at this point, so a break is needed. The goal is to lie here in the grass until the scavenging birds start to circle or peck at me.

Happy crew on top – changed into spring clothing today.

1.5 hours later, I push myself upright and we head back off down the hill. It’s such a beautiful day, and everyone is so sick of staying at home for months and months and months, that there are plenty of people out. I pass maybe 15-20 people in the three hours of walking today – which I do understand would be the number of people you’d pass in 10 minutes in metro Melbourne, so it’s good to be in a less dense population for sure.

Of course, a lot of those city people are invading the regions and pushing up rent and house prices, so the tree changer increase that has always been a trickle has become a bit of a flood. The tide may go back out after they’ve been frustrated by rural healthcare access and through a few of our summers (which are much hotter and drier than Melbourne) and a bushfire or two, though.

Heading back down.
Bears Hill there in the middle. Wodonga is growing around it on all sides.
See that grassy area with the mobile phone tower? That’s the old landfill. Probably don’t want to live too close to that because you’d likely be down-gradient for any groundwater pollutants and landfill gas risks.

I head home a similar way, just enjoying the sun and the fact that I really don’t hurt or feel too tired. Oh, I’ll be done by the time we get home, but mostly just my guts and my feet tired from pounding so much concrete over two days.

Another nice path along a creek. Yarralumla Drive.
I am told that this would have been a nice floatie stop, too.

Remarkably, once I get home, I feel fine. That’s fantastic for a 16 km walk when I’m not used to long walks. 30 kms in two days is pretty good!  Maybe lying in the grass for more than an hour at the mid-point today was key. I still have the neuropathic type pain in my legs from the oxalates, but my muscles don’t hurt from over-use and I don’t have any blisters or anything else that would prevent me from getting out again tomorrow.

I am so pleased with how my energy levels are slowly improving and how I can do so much more activity. Or maybe I’m overestimating recovery and underestimating just how much energy I expended for work. Maybe I still have the same level of energy, it’s just amazing at how much I can do when I don’t spend it all on work!

Nevertheless, I’m happy with where my energy levels are at. If I can just get my digestive system sorted, I’m very confident I could hit the road (COVID issues not withstanding). It’s also great to have conquered 4 of our 7 summits. The other three are over on the Albury side of the border, so they will have to wait until restrictions and border politics have eased.

What an awesome two days of hiking to welcome in spring – not quite a wilderness hike, but certainly not a bad effort for working within the COVID lockdown. I’m excited to see how more rest and no stress will impact my immune system and its ability to get rid of/get on top of the bartonella. The doc said the key to getting well was taking the stress off the immune system. I’m doing that, and it is already paying dividends.

As soon as restrictions ease enough for another overnight or longer ride, we’ll be out there!! I’m working on the gear side of things at the moment, so that we can live off the bike for a while as soon as all the stars align. Even though I’m in a heap of pain and every bit of food consumption is like rolling a roulette wheel, I’m feeling very positive that the next big bike tour (which, back in 2014 I’d envisioned to be in 2020…hahahahahahaha) is on the horizon. I can see it, and I’m confident it’s not a mirage.

4 thoughts on “The Waiting – September Challenge Peaks – Happy Spring

  • Hi Emily and good on ya for getting out. It is heartening to read that your energy level is improving. That’s really fabulous considering as you say, how you had to pry yourself from bed often it the past.
    The hiking is an imaginative way to get exercise while more or less keeping within 5 km of home. When I first read about the restrictions, I thought I could never do that. But last winter during the wave here, I pretty much limited my Saturday ride to routes that were within a few miles of home. I stopped going to the bakery in Bethesda because I thought the street was too congested with too many people without masks; didn’t go there after thanksgiving until March or so, when the infection rate dropped. And, as I just recalled, that was when I got vaccinated.
    Gosh, it was a rotten time of chilly weather, boringly repetitive routes, rationing water consumption because restrooms were scarce…it was a big deal when I found a parking deck with plexiglass windows so I could eat a snack out of the wind.
    Thanks for the reminder of the smells of spring and the photos. Oh, Neutragena makes a sunblock with a pleasant smell but who knows it it is on offer in Oz. And thanks for the metric for judging spring – more comfortable in the shade than in full sunlight.
    Hope you continue to feel better.

    • Hi Chuck – you really persevered with the riding during the winter lockdown last year! Those were a lot of obstacles to dodge and figure out. I think lockdown here is easier in winter because it’s our rainy season and you don’t always want to go out in 52F and rain. The lockdowns are harder to take in spring and autumn when the weather is perfect – especially since we have so few perfect bits of weather here. They were supposed to ease restrictions in the regional area where I live this week, but no announcements so far. It can be very frustrating for sure, but it would be even worse if I were feeling great and wanting to be out on tour.
      Thanks for the sunscreen recommendation. We do have that brand here (at least for shampoo). I’ve always stuck to Banana Boat Sport because it is sweat resistant and so doesn’t get in my eyes and sting. I suppose after a few days on tour without a proper shower, I probably smell worse than the sunscreen anyway!
      Hope you have a beautiful fall with perfect weather for riding!

  • I realized the proper spelling is Neutrogena (got a tube in front of me). The “sheer zinc” version has that thick white consistency that is hard to rub in.
    What happened to the colored sum blocks? I recall they were promoted as a way to tell if it was time for a new layer of sunblock. Also, the fun of a blue face.

    • Thanks, Chuck. I will have a look for that when my current bottle runs out. I’m pretty sure you can still get the coloured zinc sticks here – but maybe more in the beach areas? If I used a blue block, my face would be blue and brown – it seems I get a lot of dirt on me when I ride!

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