24-27 September 2021
190 kms (118 miles)
It’s the white noise of tyre tread crunching over gravel. It’s the sound of the occasional ping when gravel flicks up to contact the frame. It’s the pull of the brakes against forward acceleration as the trail crosses a road. It’s the first breath of wind that pushes in a gentle quartering tail position. It’s the sun rising steadily on a trajectory mid-way between winter and summer. And it’s the consistent drumming of my heart in a steady, increasing rhythm that matches the gentle incline.
It’s the little things that add up to the joy of being out on the bike. And here we are again.
Day 1 – 60 kms (37 miles)
I did not have a ride planned for these days, but a 4-day window showed I could finish what I started last week, plus check off two roads on my list that have been on there for ages.
And so we find ourselves pedaling up the rail trail again along the southern shores of Lake Hume. You know all those pictures from last week? Just insert them here again, only add a strengthening tailwind after the first 20 kms. Keep those same pesky magpies and occasional other trail users. Keep the horizontal resting to keep my guts in order. And keep those same cute green guys up there in the handlebar bag.
I had a different idea in my head for my next ride. However, a forecast of a 25-30 kph westerly wind with higher gusts meant that we re-jigged that plan so we can ride with the wind instead of against it. No sense fighting battles you can avoid. That other idea can wait.
I stop in Tallangatta. Instead of riding down to the shoreline reserve, I just find a corner of the main town park that is devoid of people. I lay the bike down, prop myself against the panniers, and let all the gut and back pain recede. The base pain levels have gradually increased over the past month which means I need to stop a bit more often.
After five minutes of resting, I sense a person nearby. I sit up and there’s a guy standing there with a mountain bike. He introduces himself and asks if he can pick my brain about my bike.
Yeah, sure, just don’t come any closer (social distancing and all, you know, even though we are both wearing masks as they are mandatory here indoors and out).
His name is Geoff. He’s interested in taking up cycle touring or bikepacking and wants to know about my gear. He’s got an entry-level dual suspension mountain bike that he bought cheap from a friend, but he’s looking at touring, gravel and mountain bikes to use for travel. He regularly rides the rail trail, as he’s done today, simply because he doesn’t know where else to ride. He likes mountain biking but gets bored with riding on the same trails and thinks he’d like to travel places on the bike.
So we talk about the pros and cons of bikepacking vs touring gear and what terrain can be ridden on different sorts of bikes. I write down a couple of bikepacking websites he might find useful, as well as a couple of individuals’ websites I follow that do really interesting and challenging rides.
He’s very thankful for the conversation and links. He asks where I’m heading. How did I choose that route? How did I know where to go? I show him the picture on my phone of my wall map at home that I mark off all the roads I’ve ridden. I say, “I just try to find some roads I haven’t yet ridden and develop something based on that – the only roads I don’t ride are the B and C roads, generally. (And don’t worry, I sanitized my phone afterward after he was holding it!).
He is very impressed by this. He says, “So you just pack up your stuff and camp somewhere? Do you book at caravan parks or pubs or something?”
Me: Nah, I prefer to just camp somewhere in the bush alone if I can. On short rides like this, I don’t need any services or a shower or anything.
Geoff: Seriously? That is sooooo cool! Don’t you get afraid to be alone?
Me: No, I prefer it. I’ve been camping alone for more than 25 years.
Geoff: So you’re not afraid of anything?
Me: Yes. Lightning. Absolutely terrified.
Geoff: What about snakes? Or country blokes with no respect for women?
Me: No, not really. There are things I’m cautious about – snakes, creepy men, distracted drivers. But I’m not afraid. Those are just risks. And risks can generally be managed. I know you’ve done risk matrices with risk and consequence for work. Who hasn’t!!? It’s a similar thing – this is just done in your head instead of in the grant application or project framework!
Geoff laughs and then says: Wow, you are definitely not like any other woman I’ve ever met! I’m really impressed that you go out there all by yourself and have so much confidence.
It is my turn to laugh. I then say: Thanks, but being a woman is just like being freckled. It is what it is – but I don’t think about it, and it doesn’t define me. Just like I’ve got to use sunscreen so I don’t sunburn since I’ve got fair skin, I probably have a couple extra things to consider because I’m a woman. But I just go and do what I want to do. I’ve always been that way.
Geoff is still amazed by the solo woman aspect and heaps praise upon me. It makes me uncomfortable because I’m always disappointed that we still live in a society where the general population thinks a woman needs to go off on adventures with a partner and that it is odd for women to do things like this alone. Sigh….
A partner that wants to ride with me is actually my worst nightmare. My cycling is MY time. A partner that likes to camp or bushwalk with me… that would be great, but leave me alone when I’m riding!!
Geoff gives me his phone number and tells me to give him a ring and we’ll go out for coffee to further discuss some good routes he could try and some discussion about good gear brands.
Yeah, no. I take his number but I truly do not need to nurse a newbie at this point nor do I need another 50-something man to think about in my life.
I fill up three liters of water and then head back to the rail trail. We head up the section we rode last week. The only difference is that I follow the dirt track along Tallangatta Creek and only get on the highway to go over the bridge. I then ride the rail trail from the creek to Bullioh (every other time I’ve just taken the road as a detour through here since there is no rail trail bridge yet over that creek).
This section gets me two more magpie swoopings and a somewhat rough surface. Sorta 50/50 whether this is better than the road diversion or not. I guess it would depend on your aversion to high-speed traffic and logging trucks on a road with no shoulder for about a kilometre.
Father of the Year magpie from last week is still relentless and aggressive. And this week, the joy of swooping is prolonged even further. Because of which paddocks the landowner has the cattle within, you get to fumble with three locked gates instead of two in quick succession.
Once past Father of the Year, at the beginning of the long hill, I program in HUSKER DU on my ipod. I have a huge level of angst I need to pedal out today. I should not even BE on the bike today. I should be driving back home from the procedure to find out why I’m in so much pain.
But, oh no, after isolating from all friends for two weeks, not going to any business for two weeks, and waiting in line forever for a COVID test, I got a call from the hospital on Tuesday at 1pm giving me my admission time for Thursday. Then, at 4.55 pm on Tuesday, the surgeon’s office called to tell me my surgery had been cancelled.
I felt totally defeated and crushed. I’m in so much pain. I’ve been nauseated, vomiting and in pain for 5 months already! I desperately need this procedure. But no, they did not shuffle people around that day to get in the people with the most pain, no, they just cancelled all the afternoon appointments.
I texted Nigel: ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck, they cancelled my surgery’. He then rang me. He told me to come over to his place this weekend. He’d rub my back, cook me dinner, look after me.
But no, I need to ride. I am crushed but angry. Western medicine has repeatedly failed me over the past four years and I’m furious. Nigel tries to dissuade me from the ride. He’s very worried about me and the amount of pain I have. He thinks it is just reckless to keep doing these rides.
And so, reckless it is.
Here we are at the base of the hill with HUSKER DU’s Everything Falls Apart album blaring from my ipod. I do not handle anything with grace or poise – just a quiet and furious determination that is not always pretty.
So I am pedaling hard, spinning up that hill, getting out all that emotional hurt and anger through the pedals. I was pinning all my hope on this procedure being done, getting a diagnosis and starting some sort of treatment. 6 months stuck in the system without even a diagnosis is just insane.
But of course, as they say, “He who lives on hope, dies fasting.” Or from a ruptured or perforated organ.
All of that angst gets me up the big, long hill.
Once we cross under the main highway, I stop at the spot I had eyed off as being a perfect campsite on the last ride. I did not think I would use it so soon, but this will be just perfect for tonight. The clouds have been building all afternoon, and I’ll be able to get the tent set up before the rain comes. I’ve done 60 kms which is probably 20 kms more than my guts would have liked. So it is just on 3pm, but here we will lie.
I pull my leg over the frame and let the bike fall. The pain in my back is so bad I’m hunched over and taking shallow breaths. Screw the system. If I die, Nigel can put in a wrongful death suit for me not getting prompt enough treatment.
I pull out the groundsheet and lie down. The smell of pine is soothing. It makes me think of good times in Colorado when I was young and healthy and immortal.
I listen to the wind whirring through the needles. They catch all that movement of air, and it is calm where I’m resting. The pines were never thinned after planting, so they knock and clack as they sway into and collide with each other in the wind. The clouds thicken further. They scoot across the sky at speed. No matter how much crap has come my way over the past four years, I still love to be on the bike and out on the road somewhere. I love the dynamism of the weather and being outside to experience it (as long as there is no lightning).
I eventually get the tent set up – it’s such a great spot behind a cutting on the trail overlooking the valley below. There’s a hump along the hill, so the tent can’t be seen from anyone down in the valley either.
Several short squalls or spatters of rain come through, but the temperature stays warm. I lie there with the sleeping bag draped over me until darkness fills the sky full. The clouds have moved off but the wind remains. I climb in the bag and listen to the pine needles whir and sing me to sleep.
Day 2 – 55 kms (34 miles)
It is cold and crisp. My thermometer says 2 degrees. The front has moved on. But what is this? Sun? Clear skies?
The forecast was for 14 degrees and cloudy today down in Albury. Which means I was expecting cloudy and 11 or 12 degrees for a high up here. Not a nice day, but okay if you’re moving.
I thank the weather gods as I pack up. The breeze through the night has kept the tent pretty dry. There is dew on the long grass, but my feet don’t get too wet traipsing back and forth through the grass to carry my gear and bike back to the trail.
My legs are okay from yesterday. It is good my body is responding and appears to be allowing me to build fitness, something I’ve been unable to do since 2017. Every time I would try to build fitness, my body would rebel and pummel me with more fatigue. So this is good. Very good.
We continue up the rail trail and on past Darbyshire where we stopped and turned around last week. We’re finishing up the only bit of the rail trail to Shelley today that I haven’t yet done.
The road sits 50 metres or so uphill. The rail trail is close to the road at times or a hundred metres or so away at other times. There is remnant forest enveloping the trail and a steep slope down to the creek flats on the left.
I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a tributary creek. I need to fill up water. I don’t think there will be accessible sources later today or tomorrow. I’ve got 2 litres for today but want to get another two litres for tomorrow. If all else fails, I can hang out at Koetong until the pub opens. But that doesn’t really appeal.
So we pedal on up the trail until I see falling water over in the distance. Yes!
I lean the bike against a tree. I slip and slide down the steep slope from the rail trail. On my tumultuous path downhill, I end up smearing wombat shit on my sock and shoe and black charcoal from a burnt tree on my leg. The slope lessens and I pick my way through the grass. I saw my first brown snake yesterday, so I take big steps that have a bit of a stomp. It’s cold enough not to be snakey, but I still don’t want to step on a sleeping one on the opposite side of a log.
I make my way down to the creek edge. Hmmm…. the creek is nicely incised and there is a 10-15 foot drop to the water. The other side of the creek has some similarly steep drop-offs, but I can see a way to get up that side and over to the tributary, if I can only find a way down this side. So I walk up and down the creek edge for a bit looking for where the kangaroos cross. I know they’ll cross the creek somewhere… I have just got to find it.
Finally, I find a kangaroo path down to the water. Those guys can bounce pretty high, so the ‘steps’ on the path are made for giants. They all slope toward the water and are a mix of dirt steps and rock steps. I clamber down, somewhat encumbered by not being able to use my hands since they are gripping water bottles.
But once I get down to the water, it is actually quite picturesque. There is a nicely positioned, non-slippery rock that allows me to hop the creek and crawl up the other side. This side is covered in blackberry canes and scratchy bracken. I do my best to tromp and vibrate the ground as I fight my way through the grippy vegetation. There are scratches and blood involved, but I do get to the tributary creek, get the water bottles filled and then do all the clambering, climbing and slipping and sliding in reverse.
Wow, that was a major effort! I sure hope we don’t come across another water source that is easy to get to, or I will feel like such a fool! (This was a good call – no better water source was found over the next two days).
We continue pedaling, the trail drawing us up to 634 metres at Koetong Station. We have to join the highway for 1.7 kilometres, but luckily there is light traffic. It could be a bit scary with all the logging and livestock trucks, no shoulder and no signs warning of cyclists on the road. But this early in the morning on a Saturday is okay.
We pass by trestle bridges, through cleared pastures patchworked in between the plantations of pine and remnants of native forest, and over creeks running through paddocks of cows. The wind picks up and the wind chill makes me very glad I’ve brought full-fingered gloves on this trip. Two magpies attack in unison – what is up with that? It felt like there were shrieking birds and helmet thumps coming from everywhere for 50 metres.
Finally, we pull off the rail trail and take Billborough Lane down to Koetong. We’re high in the landscape with long views over pine and native forest to Mt Lawson. We zing down that laneway on good, packed gravel. I fly over the cattle grids with a zing-zing instead of a thumpa-thumpa-thumpa.
Zooooom! Oh, I do love to go fast.
Koetong has about 6-8 houses and a cemetery clustered near an old pub. The pub is open these days, does meals and lets rooms should you need any of that. I do not. And it’s too early to be open. So we head onto the Burroweye Road to ride the bits not yet ridden.
However, I must first negotiate two loose dogs. They come out barking from behind the fence of a home. There is a car there with its boot open, so I know the owner must not be far away. The small, ugly dog is not a worry. But the kelpie might be.
Am I afraid of dogs? No. Not even after the attack last year? No. But I’m probably extra cautious. I’m not going to try to out-ride that kelpie who has his head down and tail pointed out. I still have a hole-like dent in my leg from the 2-cm puncture wound last year. The bruising from that incident took 6 months to heal and the tetanus booster and antibiotics made me feel terrible for two weeks. I REALLY don’t think I need THAT right now.
So I dismount and keep the bike between me and the dogs until the owner calls out from somewhere (I never actually see him) and the dogs retreat behind the fence. They continue to run up and down the fence barking until I’m a long way down the road.
After a nice, long rest in the grass in the sun beside a pine plantation, I resume the ride. The road is in terrible condition. Huge potholes, huge gravel, corrugations. I thread the needle on the tiny strip down the edge or right in the centre that is somewhat smooth. Luckily, there are very long sight lines so I know I’ll see a vehicle ahead or behind long before I need to retreat to an edge.
I see Weird Carcass Number 1 for the day. From a ways off I was thinking it was a BIG kangaroo, then a bit closer, I thought it must be a calf. But no, that is a big-arse sambar deer decomposing on the verge. Their calls sound like honks and will wake you from a dead sleep. I know this from experience.
We roll down to the creek and then commence the long climb up to a gap in the range. I do see and get out of the way of one ute, but that is the only vehicle I’ll see in the 24 kilometres of this road. Blissssss.
We finally attain the gap/pass/low point on the ridge and leave the pines behind (mostly). We have what would seem to be the longest downhill ever through native forest. The road varies in condition and steepness, but wow, am I ever glad to be doing this downhill rather than up. It just goes on forever.
I pulse the brakes. I slow for sharp curved corners where ephemeral creeks have carved a path down the hillside. I keep an ear open at all times for a local to come flying around a corner. I listen, also, to a creek far below and the sound of leaves rustling in an early afternoon breeze.
The road curves and twists. Oh yes, I love a squiggly line road.
We eventually emerge from the forest into private land that is a mix of cleared pasture, stands of bush on steeper hillsides and bits of pine plantation. Down. Down.
I come across weird carcass number 2 for the day. I did not take a picture at the time as I was rolling downhill, but now I regret it, because I cannot show you what a beautiful creature was there decomposing. It was a Southern Greater Glider with a light grey, fluffy coat and the sweetest face (minus eyes) you’ve ever seen.
See pictures and information about the southern greater glider here:
I’ve never seen one of these guys before, but I know they were in abundance back when they did surveys of the bush in the 1970s before much of the bush was converted to pine plantation. They are considered threatened now, and the Black Summer bushfires burnt through much of their range. Poor little guy. I have once seen a sugar glider, but only once, but never before seen one of these. So for awhile I think about how awful humans are and how large a role we are playing in one of earth’s great extinction events.
And the road continues down. And down. I kinda thought we’d crest the ridge, roll down through the forest and then out into a long flat valley, a bit like the Kiewa or Mitta. But no, the land is all scrunched up here, like multiple pieces of clothing wadded in a basket with no clear folds.
We round some hills; we descend to the creek. We climb away from the creek; we roll back down to it over and around the mounds of earth.
Eventually we get down to where it is all cleared land, but the land stays bunched and bumpy.
I am taken aback by the severity of the burn on the hills in the distance from the Black Summer fires two years ago. I’m sure this all burnt the same night that the fire burnt through the nearby national park and burned down homes in Cudgewa. I’m sure it burnt hot and fast.
I can see numerous dozer lines running perpendicular to the fire’s run. They are long bare scars running like knife wounds up the hills. But it doesn’t look like any of them worked. There are patches of unburnt bush, but always swathes of severely burnt bush not far beyond the dozer lines. It looks like they were just repeatedly overrun.
That is the eastern extent of the Green Valley fire – I’ll get up further into the fire zone later this season. But for now, we just go down, down, down.
I see weird carcass number 3 for the day. Again, I think it must be a dead calf or a very bloated sheep (though they don’t run sheep up here because they get picked off by all of the wild dogs). But as I roll by, I realise it’s a big, dead, hairy, wild pig. Yuck. I’ve heard them in the bush before but never seen them. Stupid humans and their imported, exotic animals.
Down, down. We roll up and down for what feels like days. I’ve ridden the Guys Forest Road several times and seen this road take off steeply up the valley, but I never before really thought about the complexity of the bunched hills you’d have to climb through to get to the ridge beyond.
Finally, we make it down to the valley floor. I marvel at how the fire ran and what it consumed and what it skipped on the hills across the valley.
I take a long rest at the Burroweye Reserve. There are about 5 or 6 groups camped down here and I get to breathe their campfire smoke while I lay in the grass and then consume some food. It is not all that warm today, but it’s certainly better than cloudy and 13. Still, I manage to time it so that the whole time I’m sitting/laying there is when the sun is behind a series of clouds. No radiant heat. As soon as I start riding again, the sun reappears. Doh!!
We weave along, up and down, in and out of the creek inlets. We meet with the backwaters of the dam – at least 60 kms away from the dam wall here. Marvelous – it all feels so alive and vibrant and so unlike Oz.
We pass weird carcass number 4 – another rotting deer. But this one doesn’t have the deep-barreled chest like the other, so it must be the smaller kind. I think these are called fallow deer. Stinky but organs still intact. For now. Not far along I see carcass 5 for the day, but not a weird one: red-bellied black snake. Yes, the season has begun.
Finally, after fighting into the cold 15 kph headwind for 10-12 kilometres, we roll into the campground. It’s a long weekend and there are several groups there. So I cross the dry drainage and head up the hill so that I’m away from their noise and campfire smoke and can bask in the sun as long as it stays above the ridge. Ahhhhhh…..
However, round about 5pm, everyone pisses off. The AFL Grand Final – the Super Bowl of Aussie Rules Football – is this evening and there is no phone coverage here. Ah, so I’ll have the campsite to myself anyway!
Sure enough, where there had been cars every few minutes on the road before, come 6pm and there are no more cars. At all. Until 5am the next morning. Not a single one.
I seriously enjoy that quiet. And I enjoy the sky without the moon. I watch the stars and planets slowly appear as dusk turns to dark and the clouds dissipate. Venus lies large and pretty low. Saturn is still impressively big, but not so much as a month ago. Jupiter and Mars are also out and about.
I quickly spot four satellites and it reminds me how COVID is still wreaking havoc in Sydney and Melbourne. Normally, that air route is the second busiest in the world and you can see, and sometimes hear, all those jets flying back and forth since we are under the flight path. At night, you can watch all those blinking jet lights floating across the sky in each direction a couple times per hour. But right now, with lockdowns in place in both cities, there’s only a few flights a day.
There’s a dusting of Milky Way just above – a puff of confectioner’s sugar with star sprinkles throughout. Below the Milky Way is a parallel smear of relative darkness where the last of the day’s clouds hang horizontally in the very last of the light – like Dark Chocolate Street runs parallel to Milky Way.
I figure I will sit out here until either my neck starts to hurt, my guts start to hurt, or I get cold. But oh do I love gazing upward and feeling so small. I love the cold air descending and last light slipping away. I think about how astronomy would be a good hobby to take up because it’s something that won’t become difficult or sad to do with climate change. It’s something that will stay the same.
And then, just as I think that, I see something in the sky I’ve never seen before. Here I am thinking it’s all predictable when I see this blinking light to the ENE at about 70 degrees. It’s a bit like the blinking light on a jet plane, only further away and not as big. It’s not a jet plane. It’s not as dim as a satellite. AND IT DOESN’T MOVE. It stays in the same spot within the same constellation. What the hell is that? It just blinks every 5 seconds – a flash that recedes to darkness. Five seconds later another flash. It does not move for 8 minutes. And then it just disappears. What sort of satellite does that? We don’t have good relations with China right now – is it a spy satellite (suggested in jest)? What moves so slowly it doesn’t seem to move at all and then just disappears? I am totally perplexed. (Later google investigations suggest a geostationary satellite, military plane or a few other things I don’t remember.)
The shooting stars aren’t all that impressive tonight and I leave the Milky Way behind as it becomes more of a paintbrush stroke rather than a dusting. I crawl in the tent and put on another layer before crawling in the bag. Ever since West Nile screwed up my thermostat, I’ve got to be so careful about not getting too cold or hot since it takes me a long time to stop shivering or get cooled off.
Sometime in the wee hours, I crawl out to pee. The moon has risen and the stars have receded. It’s as if Luna University has told the sky that they have limited slots for scholarships, so the sky should just retain its best and brightest. And so all those thousands of stars out in force at bedtime fade into the light and only the brightest remain.
I do not linger though – it is frigid out there!
Day 3 – 35 kms (22 miles)
There’s a million drops of water holding bubble form on a million blades of grass. It is 2 degrees Celsius and human breath condensates on expulsion. But all those molecules held in tension on the grass are liquid not frozen, so dew point was reached but freezing point was not.
Getting up on a cold morning in the tent is a bit like getting up for work. Don’t think about it. Just do it. If you think too long, you’ll hit the snooze button or just make things harder on yourself.
So when the sun comes peeking over the trees at 6.10am, I unzip the bag. I pull off my hat. I remove my puffy jacket. And then start the packing up, teeth brushing and loading of the bike. Just get up and go.
This is how I know I’m not old or addicted to coffee. I do not have to adhere to any morning routine. I do not have to have a coffee and/or a shit before I depart. I’m happy to munch on some snacks 20 kms down the road and have a shit whenever my body is ready.
27 years of backpacking and riding and I am very skilled at shitting in a bag, tying that off, placing it in a shopping bag tied to the outside of the pannier and depositing it at the next rubbish bin I find. If that rubbish bin is going to be a couple days in the future, then the compostable shit bag goes in a Ziploc bag before the shopping bag.
What about burying it you ask? Nah, the ground is so hard or rocky in most places in Oz that you can spend forever and still not a dig a hole that’s deep enough to comply with Leave No Trace principles. So I’ve been shitting in bags for years when there’s no toilet available. Some things in life are simple, and shitting in a compostable bag is surprisingly one of those.
I do use the campground dunny before I head out today though. It actually has toilet paper – VIC park toilets rarely do.
It is soooo cold as we roll down the first hill in the shade of the ridge. I’ve got my fluoro shirt, wool thermal and my rain jacket on. And oh, thank goodness I thought to bring the full-fingered gloves. I’m still just in shorts though – it’s got to get below freezing before I’ll think about tights.
We roll along in silence and long shadows. My muscles slowly warm as the day brightens. Too cold for sunglasses, though, they just fog up with my condensating breath. Chilly. Chilly. Chilly. It has been nice to have a proper spring this year so far.
The road follows the ends of the hills high above the river course. When the dam is this full, the water laps at the slope not far below the road edge in places. The road is cut into the ends of the hills in other places as we curve in and out of bays, inlets and creek crossings. It is mostly gentle climbs and descents. Many places have no guardrails, so any high-speed mishap would likely be accompanied by a few rocky thumps and then a splash.
I keep wondering when the first car will pass me. It is going to be a gorgeous day. It is the last day of a long weekend. This road will get busy, so that is why we are out pedaling away in the crisp call of sparrow’s fart. It’s also going to get windy, and I want to be done with the southerly run of the road before that starts.
I almost make it. 20 kms into the day, still no cars passing, but the wind gets me about 2 kms before I get to the last of the southerly run to Cottontree Creek inlet. It is not a gentle breath of wind as a warning puff. It is not a slight breeze that just bends the tips of grass back. Nope. This is a 15 kph wind that just starts out of nowhere. It’s a get up and go sort of wind, too. It has not lingered for hot drinks.
Still, once we round the inlet at Granya, that ESE is behind us and I feel very smug for getting in that early start. Sure it was cold as hell, and I’ll be chilled enough that my thermal top stays on until nearly 11am today, but we pretty much beat the wind!
We retrace our route from the other day, just heading in the opposite direction today. We curve along the lake shoreline on that sinuous and good-surfaced road. The first car passes us at 8.30 am at kilometre 26 for the day. Now that’s how I like it! Almost 2 hours of riding before I see the first car.
At 9am, the gates are opened and the cars and motorbikes start to come every 5 or so minutes.
And then I’m done for the day at 35 kilometres. Yes, it’s meant to be a short rest day of sorts. It’s mostly because of the distances my guts can do, and where I could access treatable water. This is the best public land option between the camping spot last night and home – and I can get through a short riding day with just these two litres of water I filled up yesterday. You don’t get too thirsty just hangin in the sun and shade on a 17 degree day.
I roll down to the lake and find a spot out of that moderate wind. Walk around the point and it’s a whole different sort of cold and blustery over there. I set the tent out to dry. I eat. I tether the guys out to float. I sit in the sun.
As the day goes on, the weekend traffic is worse than I’ve ever seen it. It’s easily a car every 1-3 minutes for most of the day. Such a contrast to midweek last week when it was one vehicle every 10-15 minutes. But it is a gorgeous long weekend, it’s the middle of school holidays, everyone is getting out and about before another lockdown hits, and border controls for border bubble residents have eased and Albury folks can cross into Victoria for any reason. So it’s a busy day over there on the road which makes me feel even more smug about the early start.
I laze the day away – in the sun, in the shade, nibbling on food here and there. The sun lights up the waves as a million sparkling, moving pieces of glitter. Diamonds on glass. The guys float and float. All my angst is gone. It’s just more endurance to get through the pain until the end of October.
I do have one unkind thought: I hope the cancer patient that got my surgery slot on Thursday was a slim, fit person with some rare cancer that can’t be prevented instead of some overweight sausage and bacon lover with self-inflicted colon cancer.
Yeah, I know, just be glad it wasn’t you. But that niggly thought is there on occasion – what if it is something more serious and a delay in diagnosis changes the prognosis. The surgeon said cancer was only a 1-3 percent chance for the symptoms I’ve got…. But what if…..
Of course, you know that I well and truly know that you can’t What If anything. Been there and done that with Nigel and it doesn’t change a thing. So I think about how I’d want to be remembered by my close friends and family. No funeral services or plaques or memorial benches or anything, of course. And really, wherever Nigel wants to chuck my ashes would be fine. I won’t be around to care.
But, I think, in the end, I come up with this being how I hope I would be remembered: A quiet and fiercely independent soul who loved the outdoors and being on a bike. She listened to the stories the rocks had to tell and so was comfortable with her finiteness.
But never mind, we know whatever comes from this procedure won’t be deadly, just something else idiopathic, non-treatable and no fun to live with. Been there, still doing that.
Around 4pm I cross over the road to the nature reserve. I am a bit hesitant about camping in these areas of crown land, simply because I don’t want to impact on nature and the species residing there. This reserve is a nice example of an open grassy box woodland. BUT, the groundcover is almost all exotic weeds and grasses, so there will be no issue impacting flora.
I push the bike up the steep, eroded access track as quickly as I can so that no one passing on the road sees me heading in. I drop the bike halfway up and continue on foot, so I don’t have to do any unnecessary pushing. At the top, at a low point on the ridge, are a bunch of bee boxes. There are nice views over into the Wises Creek valley.
The track then heads right and uphill along the top of the ridge. It ends at the end of the ridge. There’s plenty of open spots to camp up there. So I go back to retrieve my bike.
As I’m pushing the bike to the saddle, a 4WD comes up the track. Damn it. I look back it but keep pushing the bike up the track. The 4WD gets up to the bee boxes and turns around and heads back down the track. Ahhh…. that must be the bee box owner and he’s got trail cams somewhere. If he were a tourist that just coincidentally came up that track at that time, he would have continued on up the ridge to see the views, or at least paused and looked at the view from the saddle. No, that was a suspicious and territorial drive over to make sure no one was stealing his honey. I’m not sure what he thinks a touring cyclist is going to steal or what implements I had onboard to vandalise the bee boxes – I certainly am not lugging around a beekeeper suit in there!
I find a spot along a ridge that is out of view of any homes in the valley below and that will get the sun as long as possible. I recommence relaxing after setting up the tent. The sun gives a good glow as it goes down but no spectacular colours. Low key end to a low key day.
Day 4 – 40 kms (25 miles)
In the wee hours, amidst a weird dream, I am awoken by the sound of a million leaves hanging on for dear life by their stems. The rush of air comes from the southeast, and the sound moves down the ridge like patrons doing the wave at a sports stadium. The whoosh hits the tent and pushes in the side. Oh dear, I couldn’t get the tent pegs in very far yesterday in that rocky soil.
But everything holds. Again, the sound of air rushing through the leaves and branches of all the trees up the ridge fills my senses. What is going on? There’s not supposed to be any wind.
The wind continues to gust and push into the tent hard enough for the tent poles to flex. Oh dear, how am I going to ride with that amount of wind tomorrow? Doesn’t matter what direction you are heading when the wind is that gusty.
I look at the bike computer clock – it’s two in the morning. I’ve got several hours before I need to go anywhere, maybe it will have blown itself out by then.
I sleep fitfully until 5.30am. That wind has kept the temperatures quite warm – my thermometer says 6 degrees. So it’s warm enough and the wind has died down enough that I decide I should better just get up and go. The wind is less than it was, but it does make me rethink my route today.
I had planned to ride Talgarno Gap and Bethanga Bay Road today – checking off those final two roads that I haven’t ridden on this peninsula. But that southeasterly is going to be a headwind and I expect it to be very gusty by the time I get over to the Lake Road with its full exposure to the large expanse of the reservoir.
So I decide I’ll just take the main road around to the dam, as it will be protected by the hills for its southerly run. I’ll have to deal with commuter traffic heading into Albury, but hopefully I’ll beat the main 9am rush by going now.
Down on the road, dawn has just started to reach houses situated high on the hills. Down where I ride, it’s still in shade and shadow. There are a couple long climbs and one rush of five cars and tradie vehicles before I enjoy 30 minutes of no cars at all.
The morning is silent except for the wind and the low angle light makes the hills glow orange. There’s no dew drops on the grass today, just the green of late spring after a wet winter giving vibrancy to the landscape.
We crawl on through the hills on short climbs and descents. The next wave of commuters come – six cars in a row and then random vehicles for the next ten minutes. It’s been awhile since I rode this section of road, and they have very recently installed a couple scenic overlooks that really aren’t in the most scenic of locations. Nevermind… when the government gives you a grant… spend the money.
I roll on across the long bridge. It seems like the bridge was constantly being fixed up between 2003 and 2010 – painting it, replacing the decking, etc. But it’s a really nice smooth ride across on concrete now.
The bridge spits you out on the Riverina Highway – in sort of a no-man’s land between NSW and Victoria. They finally upgraded this road a few years ago. It used to be very narrow with no shoulders and a steep drop-off. It was so narrow that you had to drive very slowly in case a vehicle with a trailer came around a corner and cut into your lane. There was absolutely no room for bicycles. It was so unsafe I would not ride it.
But they blasted into the hillside to make it a lot wider, they added shoulders that vary from about 2.5 feet to wide enough for a car to pull off to the side. They straightened out some of the curves, and it’s a very rideable road now.
But, wow, am I glad I did not do my planned route today. That southeasterly is blasting and it’s very cold over here without the protection of the hills. The planned route would have been no fun at all! It’s only 25 kms from home, so I can easily come back to grab those roads on a non-windy day.
I don’t even know what time it is when I roll up to the dam wall. I just got up at 5.30am, packed up and started riding. It surprises me that it is just now 7am. That was a lot of early morning commuters – I thought it must have been closer to 8am. Ah, isn’t it nice when time is not relevant and you have nowhere you have to be!
The dam is at 97 percent and there is very large rain event forecast for early next week. So they’ve started releasing a lot more water from the dam. I go take some video of what 22,000ML of water release looks like. This is two dam outlets fully open. There are two more outlets they can use, plus they can open the dam wall gates. In 2016, after the wettest three month period on record, they had all four outlets fully open and several of the dam gates on the concrete wall open. Apparently, that was really a sight to see. There was extensive flooding downstream that year. The amount they are releasing today is about the most they can release before low lying land (e.g. the bike path between Albury and Wodonga across the flood plain) downstream starts to flood.
It truly is an impressive sound and the video does not really capture the raw power that you feel when standing there. It’s enough to give you vertigo looking over the edge. It’s also a little disconcerting today to be riding along near the gates and see the water splashing up through the gateway and onto the road! That is one full dam with all the waves being pushed against the wall from the southeasterly.
I’m not sure what the wind chill is, but it is decidedly chilly. My ears even hurt and that doesn’t happen very often! I’m glad to get on across the dam wall and not just because there is a persistent swooper of a magpie that divebombs me for the final third.
From the end of the dam wall, it’s just linking up a couple roads to get back over to the rail trail. I cut over on Camp Road to tick off that road since I haven’t ridden it before. It runs along the backside of some Army barracks up and down a few short steep hills. I tail a couple kangaroos and then high-tail it myself down the final, gravel downhill. Yippeeeee!
Still no magpies on this section of rail trail as I pedal on into town and home. While I am disappointed that I was able to do this ride because of the cancelled procedure, it turned out to be a really good ride. My energy is definitely improving. Slowly but surely. The Burroweye Road was a real treat.
I still don’t know when my guts and COVID will allow me to actually shove off on tour. The original plans were to drive over and see Don at the retirement home in early September and then head off on the bike by the beginning of October. However, lockdowns still come and go in regional areas, so it’s a bit hard to plan more than 3-5 days in advance. Plus, I may be acting ‘reckless’ in doing these rides with unresolved and undiagnosed gut issues, but I am not so reckless as to take off on a multi-week tour before I know what’s going on. So we wait. I did call this year’s journal “The Waiting”, and that has been most appropriate!
I roll up the driveway to ‘home’. I look forward to packing up the place and putting everything in storage. I look forward to being outside 24 hours a day for longer than a week. I look forward to not paying rent or utilities. I look forward to life being further simplified to whatever I pack in the panniers. Soon I will have all the gear accumulated (i.e. ethanol stove, solar panel, PLB) to sustain a self-sufficient life on the road for a bit. It’s coming… there is just a bit more Waiting.