Day 1 – 35 kms (22 miles)
The cicadas are playing their abdominal tymbals. It’s a high shrill waxing and waning of an insect orchestra with first, second and third trees instead of chairs. I imagine an unknown conductor coordinating the crescendo over in the iron bark tree just as she instructs the cicadas in the box tree to quiet down until the next rising chorus. They play for hours, a rise and fall from tree to tree, over and over until darkness falls.
The start of the cicadas always heralded the end of summer in my hometown. When the cicadas started up, you knew you would lose all your summer freedom and be relegated to the classroom soon. Therefore, I always hated cicadas as a kid because they heralded the end of the long summer nights and carefree days.
In Australia, the cicadas usually start at the beginning of summer and finish by the middle, when the heat and dryness suffocate life and everything seems to die or aestivate.
But this year, La Nina has brought us consistent rain, less scorching temperatures than normal and very high humidity. All but 3 days in January saw high temperatures of 30-35 and humidity over 60 percent. The rainfall record fell by a whopping 200 mm! It was nothing more than an uncomfortable, stifling sweat fest that, in conjunction with the cicadas, reminded me of my childhood and August in Indiana.
And so those cicadas and all that humidity were perfectly aligned with my return to work. As, I listened to the cicada songs, all the memories related to the dread and anxiety about returning to school exactly mirrored how I felt about my return to work. So January saw lots of unhappy nostalgia and morning rides squeezed in before the fly stickiness and heat became too much to bear. A super sweaty overnight ride held no appeal.
But finally, finally, the humidity broke on the eve of 1 February, allowing us to plan a ride that wouldn’t be unbearably sweaty and fly-ridden.
I drive up to Tallangatta and leave the car there. Then we’re off into a gusty headwind up the higher reaches of the huge Hume Dam. The lake has stayed above 95 percent all summer which is an extremely rare occurrence, though a blue-green algae alert has been in place since Christmas Day. Still, the high water levels give the landscape colour and texture that’s missing when the dam levels are low and there are long stretches of brown, barren land leading down to the water’s edge a long way away.
The very gusty wind dies down as we start the climb up the rail trail at Bullioh. The trail is in pretty good shape given the 306mms of rain in January (our normal Jan rain ave is only 20mm!). We wind our way up, slowly inching along, amazed at how the landscape looks green like September instead of brown like February.
I cross paths with two older women whom are hiking the trail down to Bullioh where they left a car. They’re probably in their early 80s but look fit and energetic. They’re walking at least 10kms, so good on them!
We roll along the trail’s rougher bits under the pine trees. The soft blanket of needles has washed into mounds that create a bumpy ride that feels like traversing corrugations. Beyond this, there’s a fair bit of debris along the trail, and I have to stop occasionally and pull sticks out of the rims or brakes that have flipped up as we’ve ridden over them. There’s no avoiding them all, just the biggest ones!
I get up past Darbyshire. The little feeder creek that I got water from back in September is still flowing. I had thought that I could camp here if my body was tired, as there are flat bits and shade down by the creek. This would mean that the section of trail where you have to divert onto the busy highway with its log and gravel trucks and b-double tankers could be tackled early on Saturday morning. But it’s only 10.30am and I still have legs left. It won’t be fun, but we can go do those couple of highway kms now. Most of the morning traffic has come and gone, so it’s not too terrible over there. Just grin and bear it.
A swarm of ants crawling all over my shoes and biting me through my socks while I’ve stopped to contemplate the camping spot may have made an impact on my decision, too. I stamp my feet, rub my ankles and feet together and slowly smoosh them all, leaving little ant legs protruding from my socks and that acrid ammonia-like smell of dead ants in the air. The mother of all ant hills is about 350 metres further up the trail – they’ve got a long range!
I’ve lost almost all of my fitness, so the continuous climb goes slower than it normally would, but I feel good today. The last time I did this climb I was in such terrible pain, so it’s nice to just have wimpy muscles protesting instead of major organ systems. I am so grateful to be out here pedalling.
As I ride up to the incomplete section of trail, I think about how I really have no expectations for this ride. I didn’t really do much planning and didn’t have any set ideas about anything. It’s nice to have that confidence these days where I don’t feel like I need to figure out where I’m going to camp each night, etc. Just get out on the bike and let whatever come what may. Of course, a La Nina year makes it easier because there will be water in the landscape that I can treat. That would not normally be the case in February, and more water source planning would be required.
I get up to the gravel road that takes you out on the highway detour. But wait! What’s this?! The trail has been completed through this last stretch of private property. That is pretty awesome. It makes my day.
We climb up through the remnant trees, looking down on some VERY shaggy, woolly sheep. A couple on mountain bikes passes going downhill. They have very nice outdoor attire and look like they rode out of an REI (USA) or Paddy Pallin (Oz) catalogue. The guy has small front and rear panniers that sit high on lightweight racks, and they both politely wave as they cruise downhill without pedalling. I certainly feel like a Cutter in my 10-year-old hiking shorts and Kmart fluoro shirt compared to them. Haha, but who cares, I’m a tough chick who doesn’t care at all that people often underestimate me.
The trestle bridge over Boggy Creek is still an unfinished section of trail. The signs direct you to walk on the outside of the highway guard rail along the embankment over the creek, but I just do the 150 metres on the road instead. I listen carefully for oncoming traffic and then just gun it.
Just as I’m leaving the viewing platform, a nicely dressed Boomer couple come strolling up. They look affluent and outdoorsy, so it’s a surprise when the woman says, in an English accent, “So was it worth the walk?”
Seriously? The walk down from the carpark is on a rail trail section with tall trees through a cutting. Temperatures are pleasant today. It would be a nice walk even if it was a few kilometres instead of a few hundred metres! I just say, “well, you’re there, so you can make that call now”, and then I skedaddle. You know I’m anti-social, but I’m also anti-COVID and avoid strangers like the plague, lol.
It’s about 12.30pm. Time to look for a spot to camp and relax the afternoon away. Yes, I’m feeling better and don’t have any remaining issues from surgery. BUT, the nutritionist has advised me that I need to not do too much strenuous exercise while I’m healing my gut.
Apparently, steady-state cardio, like endurance running and cycling, is terrible for your gut health and microbiome. They find a lot of people who were competitive endurance athletes in their 20s and 30s who still ride or run a lot in their 40s and 50s end up coming to them after they’ve developed skin conditions, auto-immune issues, new seasonal allergies, or new food sensitivities. The clients have done all the rounds of specialists before they end up scouring the internet when those specialists couldn’t really help them. Like me, they finally figure out that it’s their gut!
So the nutritionist advised that I lay off the cycling for a bit. I laughed at her. I told her I could not do that, because I had already done that for 4.5 years. She suggested yoga or pilates. I laughed again. I’d rather be poked in the eye. So we settled on me continuing to do gentle rides of 3-4 hours for the next four months, but nothing overly strenuous as we work on my guts. So this is me trying to somewhat stick to that!
This news is frustrating but also a bit funny to me. If I list all the insults done to my gut health (c-section birth, not being breast fed, multiple rounds of antibiotics as a kid and again in 2020, a Midwestern upbringing with little plant diversity in the diet, uni years living on peanut butter and crackers, two major vector-borne diseases, a couple of really stressful periods in life with not fantastic eating habits), I would not have listed those long bike tours in 2010, 2013 and 2014 as periods when I was doing bad things to my gut. But long bike tours were also an insult to my gut health. Sheesh… when you think you’re doing something healthy…..
It does mean that, in the future on tour, I will follow really strenuous days with complete rest days (no 15km bushwalks on my rest day!), try to keep the average daily mileage down compared to previous tours, and schedule in more rest days. Plus I’ll carry more supplements and do my best to keep up a diversity of veggies all the time.
I remember from a previous ride that there looked to be some open areas just past the Mt Lawson road where I could camp. I go check this out. Bingo! Plenty of shade and open bits perfect for an afternoon of zen.
I do go traipsing through some bush into a smaller clearing to check out its potential. But a large red-bellied black snake cruising along on top of the grass about two metres away sees me go, “Nup!”, do a 180, and head back to the bigger clearing that has shorter grass.
It has been a super-gorgeous day with temps of only about 25C. There’s a light breeze and it is almost too cool in the shade. How blissful after such an uncomfortable January. There are mozzies around after all of that rain though, so I set up the tent without its fly to escape them. They have seen cases of Ross River virus, Murray River Encephalitis and Barmah Forest virus not too far down river, plus cases of kunjin (a strain of West Nile) about 2.5 hours away, so I’m very conscious of not picking up another mozzie virus!!!
We take all the various supplements at all the various times before eating (Calcium/magnesium 20 min before eating; bile and HCL 5 min before eating; super B complex and zinc with the meal). The complexity of the supplement and eating regime, which includes not eating between meals, makes me SO happy that I decided to work for 6 months and have a place to live while I sorted all of this out! The supplement regime will only get more complicated after I do some stool and breath testing and then undertake treatment to get rid of whatever overgrowths and infection are in there. But if I want to completely heal, then this is what I have to do. I must say it is nice to see my bank balance increase instead of decrease again, too, working three days a week!
The afternoon speeds away. I nap a bit. I stretch a bit, but don’t go so far as yoga, ha! Importantly, I feel good. The brain fog and the body fog, that veil of ugh, is gone. It is nice to feel normal tired. And if you don’t know the difference between chronic fatigue and normal fatigue, be very, very glad of that!
As darkness descends, and the mozzies dance that tap dance on the outside of the mesh, I try to keep my eyes open. Go to sleep too early and sometimes you awake at 3am and your body thinks it’s 6 or 7am and is all ready to go. But I’m drowsy and relaxed. No ‘tired but wired’ which is awesome.
So I put on my mozzie net, long pants and jacket and crawl out at last light to put the fly on the tent. It was a short day, but 25 of the 35 kms were on rough gravel and we climbed 500 metres. Good enough for now and might just meet the nutritionist’s instructions.
I’ve done a good job on the makeshift pillow tonight, too. Sleep will come easy and fas……..zzzzzz.