5 February – 14 kms (9 miles)
I don’t really know where I am. Lost in a forest…. (that’s a Cure song). Or maybe not. How can you be lost if you don’t know where you’re supposed to be?
I spent some time looking at the map yesterday pondering what tracks we might want to explore today, keeping in my mind I only want to ride for 3 or 4 hours per nutritionist instructions. I decided we’d explore the tracks in the state forest to the east of Mt Lawson State Park. We’d leave the west side of the state park for another time when it’s cooler.
Our only requirement is that we have to find water today. I’ve only got 500 ml left. So the map indicated that the east side would cross a couple creeks which I’m confident should be running.
The only issue is that none of the tracks on the map have names. And the detail on the map isn’t all that great. And where the tracks meet with pine forest, the tracks within the pine (private property) are not marked.
So I’m about 3 kms into it and I’m not quite sure where I’m at on the map or in the landscape. But it’s okay, I’ve got a general idea of which direction to head to get back to the main summit road, and from there I’d know where I was, more or less. I can read the topography pretty well, so that should be enough not to become irrevocably lost.
So we traipse through the forest in the low light of morning. The sun slants sideways through the trees making my movement through the forest one of hide and seek. One second I’m in glaring side spotlight, the next second I’m in the deep shade of tree trunk. In and out as we move forward.
The first few kms are rough but rideable since the track is somewhat well-trodden as it leads to a firewood collection area. But once beyond that, the track narrows to eroded two-track with tall grasses and/or bushes growing up in the centre. Sometimes it’s rideable, sometimes it’s not. It gets worse the further we go.
Being state forest, the area is pretty flogged. You can pick out more recent coupes because there’s nothing left growing but bushy stuff and a couple tall gums left standing to reseed the area. Clear cut coupes are not sustainable, I don’t care what the foresters say. There’s a reason the taxpayer has had to subsidise the native forest logging industry for many years and why they keep getting busted for illegal cutting as they get more and more desperate for logs.
In other places, the forest is open but a bit more diverse. Large outcropping boulders sit lumped against trees and like stone droppings of a giant plopped randomly throughout the forest.
I’m wearing my hiking shorts, but I’ve got my pants on over my shorts (I’m still down on weight so it’s easy to layer) to keep all the mozzies, biting flies and the scratches from the vegetation off my legs.
Up, down, over and around. We traverse the forest. At some point, we pop out onto Mick Road. I follow it down to the edge of the state forest to the start of the pines. I’m not sure if I need to follow the forest edge here or follow the main track. I try the forest edge for 300 metres, but the topography doesn’t feel right. It drops away and then climbs, but I think we need to stay high. So I push the bike back to the main track.
The main track heads back to the pine forest eventually again. Hmmmm? I may know where we are on the map at this point. I think we need to backtrack to another track just labelled “4X4”. I think that should take us down to the creek and then up to the ridge. But… I need water, and I can see that one of the tracks in the pine forest is definitely going to head down to the creek.
Let’s go down there. Maybe something else will become apparent from there.
Nothing new becomes apparent except that I’m going to have to push the bike back up the 700 metres that we just came down. I’m also going to be able to get water. The creek is running. But it is going to be a challenge to get down to the water with all of the logs, long grass and blackberries. The blackberries can be impenetrable in places, so I’m just hoping that some kangaroos or deer wanted to cross or access the creek in a place I can get to, also.
Still, it’s still early-ish. Much better to be doing this in a less snaky time of day.
After I source two litres of water, I am much less concerned about where I am on the map. Not that I was concerned before, really. But knowing I’ve got hydration means I can just wander around and be finished whenever and wherever I feel like it for the day.
I return to the top of the hill. Push, push. I take off down that 4X4 track. And down we go. It’s fast, a bit out of control, and very, very bumpy. I eventually put my foot down and use it as a drag in combination with the brakes to stop before we get to the really steep stuff. Whoah, at what age do you get too old for those “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride” sort of tracks? That was just on the very edge of control!
Always in my head on those sorts of tracks is my mom’s voice saying, “Be careful! We paid a lot of money for your teeth!”.
The track drops us back down to the same creek. So I take the opportunity to sit down and drink those last 500 ml of water from yesterday (the other two litres have treatment tabs in them for the next 45 min). I then fill and pop in treatment tabs for the next two litres. 4 litres of water and we are totally set for today and tomorrow morning. So bring it on!
And so the forest brings it on. There is a steep, eroded and slippery climb out of the creek. It is 4X4 for sure, requiring two tires and two feet bracing on cracks and rocks to drag the bike forward to get up the hill.
There’s a bit of rideable track along the ridge, but a lot of it is too overgrown or too rough to ride. Push. Push.
When I have to push a super steep bit and need some grunt to the top, I just keep repeating the lyrics to the chorus of one of Midnight Oil’s new songs, “Rising Seas”. I yell them in my head and get the oomph to get the bike where it needs to go.
Fever is gripping
Lustre is fading
‘Cause nobody’s trading
Wall Street is jumping
Still, the music keeps pumping
If you can’t decide (if you can’t decide)
Between wrong and right (wrong and right)
If you can’t see through (if you can’t see through)
All that you hold true (hold true)
Queen of the firmament
Lord of all beneath
Masters of the universe
We’re all refugees
And in many countries
They adore celebrities
Open up the floodgates
To the rising seas
We get to more steep ups and downs. These are slow-going as I have to try to find some purchase on the edges lest the bike slide from behind and sweep me off my feet. Sometimes I can get off the track and walk the bike down. Sometimes there’s nothing but the eroded water steps to place my feet as I slip and slide my way down or up. Push, brake, pull, drag.
On and on. And on.
Perhaps in another time, or on a hotter day, or if I’d had any sort of expectations for the day, I’d be frustrated at pushing and dragging my bike through the forest all day. But I am not who I used to be. I certainly noticed a change in my headspace after finally getting proper rest and no stress in July and August. But the extent of change has only really become apparent in the past couple months since I had the gallbladder removed and finally started to really feel better.
But I’m not frustrated. I’m not anything. I’m just so happy to just be out here. It doesn’t really matter if I’m riding or pushing or slipping or sliding. Because I am here. And I feel normal. And I cannot tell you, after 4.5 years lost in a wilderness of poor health, how eternally grateful I am to just feel normal.
I don’t need to do a certain number of kms, or average a certain speed, or set a distance record. I don’t need any of that anymore. I still feel a major victory each morning when I feel refreshed and like sleep has actually rejuvenated my cells. I am just so grateful to be riding… or walking through a forest with a bike.
I still plan on doing some very challenging routes, and will still be looking to get back to doing a lot of climbing since that is my favourite part of riding, but I don’t need to make every ride harder than the last anymore.
And of course, my gratefulness extends to the fact that, simply, I am alive… with no repercussions from the gallbladder. I was in so much constant pain for so long that to not have pain still feels novel. I now also know from the follow-up pathology phone call after surgery, that I was very, very close to having life-threatening complications from that very sick gallbladder. It was at imminent risk of rupture when it was removed. If they had not done the surgery then, and it had ruptured, I might not be here at all. And if I were here, I would not be out in the forest today, I would likely still be recovering from systemic infection from a gallbladder spilling its infected contents all throughout my abdominal cavity.
So I am so happy to be out here, not in pain, not feeling that ‘veil of ugh’ fatigue, not in any major way compromised, that I could almost cry. I am doing my favourite thing in the world… wandering around in the forest on my bike, and I do not take that for granted. I have been to hell. And come out the other side.
At one point, I can see the track rising at a 45 degree angle up the opposite side of a drainage. Crap. We are going to have to go up that. So after I ‘wild ride’ down to the creek bottom, I set up the camera to show me pushing the bike up the hill. It is, after all, the theme for the day.
Only, as you know from your own photos, that it never looks as steep in a photo as it really is in real life. So maybe this video of me coming back down to retrieve the camera might show you a bit of how steep it was. And you can watch me slip at the top, and then really slip midway down. The appropriate reaction when you see my slip, go almost all the way down, and then pop back up is: “Giggle, giggle, haha, nice recovery.”
And here is the video of me pushing the bike up the hill. It is in shown in 8X fast forward and really does not convey how much trouble I had getting up that hill. It also only shows you the first third of it. I had to do this in two more sections to get to the top. But let me assure you that it was so steep that you had to place one foot, make sure it was secure, then drag the bike up or push it forward. Then take another step. You’ll also note that near the top, it was so steep that I could not pull the bike up any further without my feet slipping and no progress could be made. So I had to take the panniers off and make multiple trips.
In the video, there is a short section, at 35 seconds in, where the video slows down to normal speed. Turn up the sound for that bit. And wait to hear…. the gunshot.
The gunshot surprises me. It’s close by, but at the top of the hill. I’m not overly concerned. Deer hunting is legal here in daylight hours. It’s one of the reasons I wear fluoro when I ride – to be seen by motorists and by hunters in the forest.
But what makes me uneasy is when I see the hunters trudging toward me through the bush as I’m midway up the hill ferrying the bike and gear. It’s a medium-height, overweight guy wearing glasses with many beads of sweat glistening all over his bald head. He’s got a rifle with a scope and a t-shirt that says Afghanistan. Yeah, he looks very much like he could be an ex-serviceman. Behind him is a tall, lanky kid about 20 whom I presume to be his son. They are trudging quickly toward me, looking down at the vegetation (it is a snaky time of day by now).
I say, “Hi, how you going.”
The bald guy abruptly stops and looks up. “Oh man, you scared me!”
Haha, I just surprised a guy who served in Afghanistan? I reply, “what are you after?”
He says, “Deer. There was one that just came this way. He was small, about this big” (indicating about chest height on me).
I say, as I point down the hill “yeah, I was down there when I heard your shot.”
He replies, “Oh. No, we were shooting the other way. Safety first. Always.”
And it’s the way he says this, and the look on his son’s face behind him, that I know that that is probably not true. They were actually shooting in my direction. If they weren’t shooting in my direction, they would have been shooting INTO private property across the creek, or across the track at the top of the hill. If they were shooting the opposite direction as me, as they claim, then the deer would have had to run toward and past them to continue in my direction, and deer don’t run toward gun shots… at least that I’m aware of.
So I say, “Sambar? Or rusa?”
He replies, “Sambar, they’re tender. The rusa are too big. They’re too tough.” All the while he is scanning behind me, looking for the deer that so obviously ran past him after being shot at in the opposite direction. Ahem.
He tells me the bush is too overgrown and it’s easier to see the deer across a drainage then along the same side as you. He talks about how the conservationists need to clean up the forest as it’s too overgrown. (This bit is pretty shrubby, but it’s because a fire has been through and it’s all regrowth about 5 years old. And I’ve pushed the bike through a lot of areas that were quite open earlier).
He tells me that the deer are a pest species and need to be hunted. He is so defensive about his actions, that I grow more and more certain that he actually was shooting in my direction. It is illegal to shoot across a road or into private property. I’m sure he’s somehow in the wrong. But I don’t hint at any of that, or hint that I’m one of those damned greenies. Though I figure he can just assume that since I’m out there without a motor.
He then says, “It’s a little bit far to be out here riding a bike isn’t it?”
I just shrug my shoulders. I say, “well, that was a bit steep, I’ve had to carry the gear up separate as I just kept sliding backwards with it on my bike.”
He says, “yeah, mate, this sorta country is more suited to four wheel drive.”
I then wish him good luck, as he heads up the hill with the gun over his shoulder and his speechless son following. He does offer to help me carry the gear up the final pitch, but I say I’m good yet thank them for the offer.
I stand at the top of the hill. I had thought of going the direction that the man is walking with his son. But I’ve had enough of hunter interaction for the day, and we have now been pushing, and sometimes riding, the bike for about 3.5 hours now. Let’s head back to the main road. The road is about 2 kms from here (I definitely know where I am on the map now). Then, from there, we’ll start travelling back toward where we camped last night and just pull off if we find anything suitable between here and there. We are set with water, so we are free to camp wherever looks suitable.
As I’m pedalling and pushing up the hill, I come across the hunters’ 4WD. It has a very easy to remember licence plate number. So I memorise it. And when I get around a bit of a corner, I discreetly take a photo of the vehicle and licence plate number. I don’t expect any trouble out of those guys, but better safe than sorry.
Those guys end up overtaking me later on. They slow to pass and Afghanistan man calls out, “Stay safe.” Thanks, much safer now that you’re gone methinks!
The main road is in good shape and runs along a ridge. We have to climb for a while to the head of that drainage we crossed at its bottom, then we get a bit of a downhill to the Firebrace Track. Then we have another climb to a divide and then a long downhill.
I enjoy seeing the change in vegetation and the differences in density. There is definitely some different management timelines that can be seen.
At one point, I see a track leading away from the main road in an area that has been clear cut in the past, but has various bits of regrowth of various ages. Surely, there will be a good spot somewhere down there.
We wander down the track a couple hundred metres from the main road and a good spot next to the track shows itself. Perfect. It is time for lunch. By the time I get the tent set up, the 20 min before lunch pills will have taken effect.
And so ends 14 kilometres of riding and pushing, pulling and dragging. 14 kilometres would be a very short riding day, but it’s pretty decent for a hike. And it has well and truly taken up my 4 hours of allowed activity today. Other than potentially being shot at, it really was quite a nice day.
I estimate I walked 80 percent and rode 20 percent. If I’d had the mountain bike, I think it would have been 65 percent walking, 35 percent riding. I probably could have ridden down more of the hills on the mountain bike with its disc brakes and larger tyres, but probably could not have ridden up many more than I managed on the touring bike. I look forward to finally getting that one specced out and on the road as the global supply chains catch up.
I spend the afternoon listening to the insects buzz around the tent (haha, can’t get me!) and the birds drifting by, calling from tree to tree, their voices growing louder and then dimmer as they pass through. It is warmer today but still not super hot. The shade is not too cool today; instead, it is appreciated.
I note that the saying goes, “darkness falls”. But as I’m lying there in the dying of the day, I think it is more accurate to say that darkness ‘creeps up’. Here in the forest with a ridge and tall trees to the west, the darkness starts low and travels up the trees until just their tips are bathed in sun while the midstory and groundcover lie in shade. Darkness travels up, it does not fall.
Soon, I’m watching the last breaths of wind ruffle the leaves that are still light enough to be defined in the final rays of sun. Down here on the forest floor, it is dark and the mozzies dance back and forth on the east stage. They tap, tap along the mesh dance floor, exit stage east and show up on stage west, tap, tapping their way in uncoordinated movement off the other side. Then they are back, six or seven of them, with all of their piercing high pitch wing movements betraying their position on the screen behind my head (I’m thinking that’s backstage). And then they’re back on stage east. I’ve managed not to get bitten by anything today and my guts are happy. I am definitely getting better.
And if you were thinking in yesterday’s post, “What? No way. Exercise is good for you. It wouldn’t harm your gut”, I’ve found a link that gives a basic explanation of the pros and cons of exercise for gut health. Like anything, some is definitely very good for you. Too much is bad for you.
Importantly, this article links to scientific papers. So if you are like me and want to read the primary source rather than the summary, the links are there. For me, I am certain this is the final piece of the puzzle to regaining full health.
Good night. The pillow is not quite so good tonight…..