Beyond Bananas – March Ride 1 – Day 1

4-7 March 2022

136 kms (85 miles)

Day 1 – 30 kms (19 miles)

Sometimes a good idea comes out of nowhere. So you pounce on it and make a plan. The logistics of the plan all come together quickly like when all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle suddenly start to fit and the image becomes apparent.

And so that is how this weekend comes together. The weather forecast is hot and humid for Friday, and there is supposed to be heavy rain all day Saturday. Sunday will have strong winds from the south, turning southeasterly. Monday has moderate southeasterlies.

So this means we need to get somewhere to the southeast on Friday that will also be a good place to hang out in the tent on Saturday while waiting out all of the forecast rain. Then we can get blown home on Sunday and Monday. Or something like that. We also need to find a water source on Friday so we don’t need to lug too much water that day, but can fill up before the rains on Saturday make the creeks run silty. 

I look at maps and despair at my lack of fitness and the need to keep my rides to 3 or 4 hours in my efforts to heal my gut. Riding from home just doesn’t get me anywhere good to the southeast given my constraints.

But wait!! (Puzzle pieces all start to fit together quickly). Nigel is coming over on Friday morning to pick up a bunch of frozen meals and a fresh lasagna I’ve made for him. What if he was willing to drive me up the Murray Valley Highway somewhere to give me a head start?

Even though we’ve been separated for a long, long time, we still do our best to look after one another. We always try to support each other in the things that make the other happy.  A quick phone call to Nigel confirms he’s happy to drop me, the bike and the guys up the road somewhere.

So that is how we find ourselves pedaling the long uphill of the rail trail from Bullioh in the heat and humidity of Friday afternoon. I’ve soaked my shirt with water at the bottom of the hill and it’s keeping me cool enough as the kms roll by at 10kph.

One of the things I love about riding is that you can launch a problem and let it float while you pedal. Thoughts form like currents and push that problem around all the eddies of your head until it gets spit out the other side with some sort of resolution. Free up your head and it’s amazing how solutions appear.

View while I’m accessing mental map files.

Today’s problem I’m trying to solve became apparent as we were driving to the drop-off point. The rail trail was blocked off from Ebden to Ludlows Reserve and there was much heavy equipment moving to and fro. In good news, it looks like they are sealing another section of it – one that had quite loose, big gravel. In bad news, they won’t have that done by Monday when I need to use that section to get home. They have the speed limit reduced to 60kph on the highway for those 7 or so kms, but that highway is so busy with so many big trucks, I’m not even game to take that on with the lowered speed limit. There’s no usable shoulder, gravel or otherwise, for much of the distance, and there’s little spare lane width.

So as I ride up the hill, I let that problem float. My brain files through all my mental maps. I have visual recall of all the roads ridden and unridden up this way. I see the image of the road on my mental map and then the street view version in my memory.

Do we come up with a different route? What routes could we do that will have water where we need it and a good place to hang on Saturday? Do we work our way over to the Murray River Road and come back that way? We still have one road over there we need to mark off.  All those mental maps push the problem around the eddies of memory.

This is the route we end up riding… sort of. Google maps, RideWithGPS, Koomoot, etc. won’t route you on portions of the rail trail. I’ve got a heap of mental map files in my head for the region anyway, so I can do route planning in my head when needed.

And then, there it is, the problem is solved. There’s a picture in my head of a solution.

There’s a road that takes off from the rail trail at Huon that goes up and over the range at Huon Gap. The gap separates the Kiewa drainage from the Mitta Mitta drainage. That road then connects with Mahers Road which runs along the Kiewa side of the range. Yep, we can proceed as planned and then just bypass the closed rail trail section by going up the back side of the range on Monday. We’ve ridden that road going the other way previously.

Image to file away in Em’s streetview files. Rail trail at the second trestle bridge. We’re going to be riding through the forest on the other side of that ridge later today.

I feel good today even though it’s hot and I’ve got four days of food and 3 litres of water on board. I have a bit higher pressure in the tyres today, so I speed up the hill faster than our last go in February.

It’s late summer now. The sun tells me so, even if the heat does not. I don’t notice late summer in the morning sun. It’s the afternoon angle of light that is the dead giveaway to me.

The sun angle is late summer. The heat is still summer. The humidity is unusual. I have just wet down my shirt again in the creek at the second trestle bridge. Aaaah. It’s amazing how much that helps keep you feeling good. But as you can see, I’d never win a wet tshirt contest. Which is a good thing because it’s meant I have been able to do all sorts of sports and activities in life without bouncy pain.

I’ve said it before, but autumn always gives me the feeling that everything will be okay. Even in the most difficult years of my life, autumn has always been a salve on any wound. There is something about all those sunny, still days that produce a sense of calm when the pain is raw and real.

The smell of the pines and the sound of the wind through their needles is soothing to me, too. It takes me back to my early 20s in Colorado when life was very, very good.

Life is better for me at the moment than at any time in the past 4.5 years. So there are no wounds to heal, just a nice, stable atmosphere to promote further recovery.

I kicked major goals at work this week. I kept getting tasks flicked to me with very little background and very little direction on what the final product should look like. The work also needed to be finished on nearly impossible timelines. And each time, I produced work considered excellent well within the timeline needed. My boss said more than once, “what will I do without you?”, and, “I know you want to go ride your bike, but you’ve got to come with us to the new organisation. Or once you come back from riding, I’m going to be all over you to come work with us.”

Look at that gorgeous quartz vein.

So I feel good today. Physically, I’m not doing too bad. It WAS a big work week, and I was tired at the end of each day, but I still feel enough oomph to push out an afternoon of climbing on gravel. And mentally, I am so, so pleased with myself.

It is satisfying to get all those accolades, yes, and you should never take for granted being appreciated and treated well in a job. But the most satisfying thing about kicking goals this week is that the capacity to do that has returned. All that brain fog that made thinking so difficult in 2018 and 2019 and early 2021 is gone, and I can simultaneously hold many things in my head once again. I can problem solve and write complex documents quickly. I can interpret requests and produce work that goes beyond what is expected.

I still have word recall problems. That is likely permanent. West Nile is known to do that. But I’ve found ways around it. So this week has shown me that I can definitely think again, and it doesn’t completely zonk my energy. And that is more satisfying than any compliment could ever be.  Yeah, baby, we’re back!

Okay, but the sign says nothing about the black ram with curly horns and big dangly balls that faces me off on the trail before turning and running to his ewes, rounding them up and then moving as a group off the trail into the grass.

The clouds float in from the west ahead of the front. There are small, puffy cumulus clouds acting as independent agents, no clumping or gathering just yet. And then there is high cirrus that slowly covers the sky, a slow seeping and infiltration of moisture above.

I turn off the rail trail at Edgars Road. It’s been on my list since 2016 when I rode the Cravensville Road over to the Gibb Range Road. I stop for a break, as I’ve been pretty much continually moving for the first 20 kms. But I can’t snack between meals in order to improve the efficiency of my migrating motor complex. So I just stand there and think: well, we might as well just keep riding.

A young steer has been watching me with a small amount of trepidation as I’ve waffled over whether to relax for a bit. He keeps shifting his feet, unsure if he should run or move away. When I roll off once again, he moves a few feet over, turns to face me, but does not exit the shade.

That guy over there on the right was a bit unsure of me. You can see the road drop to the creek and then steeply climb up that hill ahead.

There’s a drop to cross the creek, then a short, steep, tyre-spinning climb to the top of a knoll and then a long gentle climb with flat bits through open pasture. The land drops away to the creek on the right and climbs up to a forested ridge on the left. We undulate along, very slowly gaining elevation, as we ride through herds of black cattle in excellent condition with really shiny coats. I learn later that this breed is called Simmentals. Never heard of them until now.

Notice the advance of clouds.

We meet up with the bush at Cravensville Road. It has a fine, hard granite base. It rides smooth and I’m surprised it’s in such good condition given all the rain this year. Just the sort of road that makes me grin.

We climb up through flogged forest – there’s nothing over 50 years of age in here. It’s fairly open, but oh so lush in the mid-story with two good seasons of rain. Enjoy this and soak it up, seasons like this are rare.

Eventually the smooth granite is replaced with a chunkier blue metal, but it is still good riding.

Climbing to a gap.

I stop for a second at Toziers Track, just to check the map and get a drink of water. The mozzies descend immediately. Okay, get going. Quickly!!

We climb the rest of the way up the drainage to a gap. It’s been a gentle climb with nothing over 8 percent. My legs are getting a bit tired, and the day is getting later since we started at 2pm. If there is anywhere suitable down the bottom of this hill by the creek, then we should set up camp there.

As I arrive at the gap, I let out a nice belch. That’s how you know I’ve been climbing. I gulp air as I climb apparently, and I’m always ready to release that back to the atmosphere at the top of a hill. I think I’ve belched at the top of every mountain pass I’ve ever climbed.

About a minute after I belch, I hear nearby gun shots. Did my belch echoing through the forest cause the deer to run? There are two more shots in rapid succession before the forest falls silent again. I find it a bit humorous that I may have startled a deer that was being stalked.

Now heading downhill.
Random large boulders in the forest make me happy.

The creek at the bottom of the hill is running clear and there’s not much foamy stuff or algae anywhere. So I find a way down to the creek below the bridge and fill up three litres of water. While climbing back up to the bridge, a bush reaches to grab me around the arm. I shall call it the jellyfish bush because the stinging, tentacle-like burn on my arm is immediate and painful. It leaves little red welts on my bicep near my elbow. Youch.

Now let’s set up the tent. This spot is tucked down low with higher ridges all around. It will be protected if there are storms tomorrow. But the public land is all big tufts and mounds of long grass. That looks snakey and like it could be boggy with rain. But let’s go down and have a look. I pull off the panniers and carry them separate to the bike until I’m about 50 metres off the road.

I slowly get the tent set up and staked out. Unfortunately, there is a big grass mound right where I need to push in the vestibule stake. I try to find an alternative spot, but it doesn’t work. So I push the stake into the grass tuft, but there is not enough purchase to get the stake to stick. So I try again.

And that is when I come to understand that this particular mound of grass is also an ants’ nest. They emerge in large numbers and with a speed that could challenge Olympic records. They swarm my thumb and wrist and sting it repeatedly. Holy mother of bleep! Bleep! Bleep! Bleep!

That is soooo incredibly painful. I shake, smear and brush off all the ants, but I’ve been stung at least eight times. It is so painful my eyes are watering. Immediately my skin comes bright red and individual stings become red bumps.

I retreat. I immediately go over and turn on my phone. There’s no reception here, but sometimes you can get off an emergency call. I also pull out my PLB so that it is at the ready. I had a mild anaphylaxis reaction to a jack jumper ant sting in 2019 where my throat swelled, my lips went numb, I broke out in hives, my voice became hoarse and my asthma flared, so I’m a bit concerned because I’ve never seen this medium-sized black, blue-tinged species before. What will eight or so stings do?

I then move the tent to another spot nearby, move the bike and gear, and then decide I really don’t like that either. So third time is a charm and I move the tent to the edge of the trees on the edge of the pine plantation land. The ground here has shorter grass and is not tufted natives. I’m technically on private property here, but I really don’t think anyone is going to give me crap.

So, an hour after we started the whole process of setting up home for the night, I’m crawling in the tent and finally relaxing. We have done 625 metres (2050 feet) of climbing over 30 kilometres (19 miles), all on gravel today with four days of food and 3 litres of water on-board in the heat and humidity. I am pleased with that.

Post-sting, pre-blister. I have two stings on the fleshy inside base of my thumb, too.

The reddened skin over the stings breaks out in a couple dozen small blisters. My opposable thumb becomes unopposable with swelling. It distinctly resembles a chicken leg from a KFC bucket. It hurts and itches like crazy. But go, immune system go, take care of all that cell death from the venom.

That night my thumb looked like a chicken drumstick.

The air lies thick and still. The pre-frontal clouds have moved off but the mozzies have not. There are at least 17 on the tent mesh at any time. There’s a high-pitched hum all around my head and hovering above. But I’ve done a great job on the pillow tonight, and once my head hits that wadded up ball of clothes, I’m already drifting off, my body actually behaving like a tired body should.

I really do live for nights in my tent and tiny dirt roads in the forest. I am a complex, middle-aged lady with simple needs. And if that ant venom does bad things to organs in the night and I never wake, at least my family and friends can use the cliché, “she died doing what she loved”.

Sorta what we rode today – it shows us on the highway, but we were never on it. Rail trail to Edgars Road to Cravensville Road. Camped at Dry Forest Creek.

4 thoughts on “Beyond Bananas – March Ride 1 – Day 1

  • I’m glad you had a good ride despite the mosquitoes, ants, and a KFC drummie. (Great description of your thumb, by the way.) I once set up my tent near a red ant colony and, like you, got swarmed. I only got a couple of bites but they hurt alright. Your belching at the top of mountain passes is an interesting phenomenon. I’ve never heard of that before, but I was entertained by the idea of wild animals being rousted by a burp.

    • You mean not everyone burps at the top of big climbs? Oh, maybe some people can breathe through their noses better than I can.

      You really can’t get away from ants in Oz. There is huge diversity and abundance of them. I think Oz has 1/3 of all ant species on earth. I regularly get bitten on rides when I’m sitting on the ground or standing too close to a nest, or get an ant caught in my flip flop, etc. So it’s just part of it here.

      It’s the stinging ones you’ve got to be aware of, as that’s a different level of pain. Gosh, these ones had a really nasty sting. Even one sting would have been enough to cause a fair bit of pain. But luckily it was just local swelling, since it’s no fun when your throat swells up and you are alone in the bush. Thankfully, I now know that whatever species that was hurts like hell but I don’t have a severe reaction to them. Those jack jumper bites, even if you don’t have some level of anaphylaxis like I did, are incredibly bad. I think fire ants in the US would be terrible, too. Here’s a thing about jack jumper ant allergy: https://www.allergy.org.au/hp/papers/jack-jumper-ant-allergy-a-uniquely-australian-problem
      and here’s a thing about pain scales of different Aussie creatures: https://www.smh.com.au/technology/the-venomous-10–australias-most-painful-creatures-rated-by-the-guy-who-knows-20160907-grajlq.html

  • I was just thinking “Em had better watch out for the mosquitoes” and, what do you know, she finds something else to bite her! How good is it that you are feeling so well at last? Work people obviously see you are back to your best too – great to have the opportunity to return after your planned, long, cycle trip. Ready to fill the moneybag for another tour, another year. I look forward to reading the next episode of this trip.

    • Yes, the mozzie viruses are a real worry up here this year. Lots of Ross River around and now they’ve found Japanese Encephalitis at Corowa at the piggery and in the people. It is a flavivirus related to West Nile with the same stats: 80 percent of people don’t even know they had it; 20 percent of people will have a ‘mild’ illness and 1 percent of those people will get very sick or die. We all know how the ‘mild’ West Nile went for me…. so I’m staying layered up, within mesh or DEETed.

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