DAY 2 – 0 kms
The support acts start around 5am. It’s just a drop or two of rain at the start – the kind that makes you think: oh, man, did a bird just crap on the tent?
There are light showers that follow – spritzes of water thrown against the tent like someone flicking a paint brush to dry it. Steadier, light rain commences, a light drumming on the tent that sounds more like fizz popping than splats.
A vehicle goes by on the road. I roll over, adjust my body to the grass lumps under the tent and resume sleep.
The sky outside is an everchanging swirl of shades of grey and white when I emerge from the tent at 10am. There are 20 minute gaps between rain showers when the bird activity picks right up and the sound of corellas, cockatoos and kookaburras fills the air.
The beads of water on the tent succumb to gravity, looking like little meteors streaming down the tent and then dissipating as the volume of water is smeared down the fly. When the rain is a little heavier, it’s like a whole meteor shower down the MSR sky. When the rain is heavier still, there is no meteor shower, just streams of water running down the fly.
I go for a wander to stretch my legs. I note that it is easy to get down to the feeder creek nearby, so when I go to refill water tomorrow morning I will not have to dodge the jellyfish bush.
The main act starts promptly at 11.45am. The pre-show entertainment after the shower support acts is a lighter sky that moves through, almost allowing the sun to peek through. Then the wind picks up – just a stir and wisp of movement to start with that builds to gusts as the dimmer switch gets turned down and the sky goes dark again.
I head back to the tent, settle down and wait for the main act about to take the stage. It announces its presence to thunderous applause in the hills surrounding the tent. The lighting show includes bright flashes of lightning followed by decreasing time between flash and thunder.
Then the rain crashes to the tent like the abrupt amplified start to a rock song.
Take this Midnight Oil song as an example. The first seven seconds, the intro, is like the distant lightning and thunder. Then at second eight, the song really starts with a deluge of instruments like the deluge of rain.
And so the storms play with much fervour for that first hour. All those thousands of tree leaves rattling in unison create waves of white noise rippling through the forest canopy. And I’m down below, inside a drum, with all the raindrops falling on the taut tent fly in a continuous drum roll ratta-tat-tat.
And so it goes for the next 5 hours. The rain forecast down in town was for 20-30mm. We’re going to end up with fair bit more than that up here.
But I’m happy to snooze the day away in the tent, well, er, the insect refuge. Yes, the tent is providing a dry space to a bevy of insect and arachnid species. There’s a small cricket, two crickets with exceedingly long antennas, a housefly, a march fly, 1 hairy long-legged black spider, 1 slender, fast sleek spider, 1 ant, 1 grasshopper, and lots and lots of mozzies.
The insects all do their thing while I nap. There is a lot of thunder and lightning in that first hour, but only one strike close enough to feel the rumble in the earth. Then the next four hours just has steady, heavy rain. It is very impressive for such a dry country.
I’m thinking about one of my good friends from uni who recently had a birthday. We were thrown together as roommates in a uni dorm and became very good friends. We’ve had lots of little adventures together, and it’s one of those friendships that picks right up where it left off, regardless of how different our lives have become or how long it has been between seeing each other.
On one backpacking trip, early in our friendship in 1996, we toasted to “truth, freedom and happiness” over spoons of Lipton Noodles and Sauce. I think about those concepts and wonder how I defined them back when I was 20. I am sure I thought of freedom as absence of responsibility – like many Americans. I probably saw happiness as having a life that felt full and satisfying. Truth? I don’t know.
And what do those mean to me now?
Freedom to me is more about choice now – my choice not to have a house, kids, multiple cars, pets or career or all those other things I’m supposed to possess. Freedom to me is about living on whatever path I choose and not having to comply with what social norms tell me I should want. Freedom is also about letting other people have that choice, too. I would find my friend’s life not to have much freedom at all, and I would not ever want the life she leads. But maybe her life, with its concessions to a partner’s needs and wants, and huge responsibilities in a job she loves, and kids who tie her down but bring her joy, has a sort of freedom, too. Maybe it’s freedom from loneliness, freedom from financial insecurity and freedom from not ever feeling unneeded given the multitude and depth of personal connections.
I struggle with “truth” in a ‘post-truth’ modernism. It would be easy to say that we should all live our own truth, but I think the past few years has shown how dangerous this is when it abdicates responsibility to others in the community. It can foster conspiracy theories and people with much power and influence deciding that lies can be accepted as ‘alternative facts’. So maybe now when I think about truth, it is more about my commitment to the scientific process and supporting those in power who take action based on science. It all reminds me of the song below by my favourite band. This song was written in the early 1980s, but is probably even more relevant now than it was then.
“Government authorize education, they’ll teach you what they want you to think, Saturation of stars and stripes, The only freedom worth fighting for is what you think, Why bother spending time, Reading up on things, Everybody’s an authority, In a free land, In a free land”.
The rain finally slows to a stop around 5 pm. Dark clouds mix with slightly less grey ones and cling to the ranges in a misty fog. I don all of my clothing (which isn’t much on this trip) to ward off the mozzies and go out to cook dinner. I’ve brought along a nice suite of veggies for this ride, so we are eating well. The warm red lentil curry hits the spot.
Sunset is the final act. It comes with dramatic sweeping clouds that fly by at speed above. Other clouds sweep away from the sun to reveal the blue behind. Yet more clouds come to fill that void while pinks and greys intermix with all shades of cornflower blue and periwinkle. Once again, a day on the road has flown by and I wonder how I’ve become so good at doing absolutely nothing at all.
DAY 3 – 30 kms (19 miles)
In the night, I crawl out of the tent. All of the clouds have gone except for some eraser-like smudges of moisture to the south. The Milky Way cups the sky above and I quickly pick out Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – certainly not in any sort of notable alignment presently. Orion is low in the sky – it’s one of the few constellations that can be seen in both Northern and Southern hemispheres. Betelgeuse is certainly back to full strength after its mysterious dimming in 2019 (it turns out a cool spot on the surface and dust cloud between us and it made the star appear dim).
The air is deliciously crisp after that hot and humid day yesterday. I stand out there in the field breathing deeply. I control my breathing with deep breaths in through my nose and forced exhalations through my mouth. I’m following Ed Abbey’s advice in part of the quote that is the foundation for my blog name. Tonight, I am “breathing deeply of that sweet lucid air”, pulling all that fresh air into me and hopefully giving my vagus nerve a good handshake. That nerve can get all screwed up and stimulating it is supposed to be a pretty powerful thing to do.
In the morning, low wisps of moisture lie about the grass, but the air is still sweet and cool. The tent is wet with condensation and dew, but I’m extremely happy with its performance yesterday. Five years in and it was not leaky at all over 12 hours and 50 mm of rain (I looked at the rain total for the weather station about 4kms from where we camped).
Our road slowly climbs through the pines and then swaps to a steeper grade as we head up through more flogged native forest. I grunt and spin and make my way up the gravel as we climb to a high ridge.
The wind is already strong and this impacts my decision for the route today. Given all of the rain yesterday and high winds forecast today (up to 40kph), I’m not terribly keen on being in native forest. I heard multiple trees crashing to the ground in the distance last night.
So I think I will loop back to the rail trail on a road we’ve ridden before that travels through mostly pine plantation. They are less likely to fall over and are set well back from the road. It will be a similar distance to an alternative I’d considered that would drop us into the Tallangatta valley.
We climb and climb to 1000 metres in elevation. The kangaroos and the deer are out this morning, and the wind pushes me around a bit, but it is a fine morning to be alive.
We round our way back to the north with a long stop at Avondale Gardens.
I want to see if it is a nicer place to camp than when we camped here back in 2007. They have very recently put in picnic tables and fire grates, and dramatically reduced the area within the reserve where you are allowed to camp. So I probably wouldn’t come here to camp because the risk of getting stuck quite close to someone with a generator would be too great.
There’s no one here this morning, though. I get all my gear spread out to dry, wander around the gardens, use the toilet facilities (it’s big enough you could hang out in there if it was raining hard – there’s even a bench to sit on), and then cook up some lunch. It’s a very relaxo day, and the noisy birds eventually fly off and leave only the wind to make noise as it rattles things around.
Eventually we head on up the road through the pine plantation. I generally avoid pine plantation roads because the gravel is always so loose and such a huge diameter. I know you need a big diameter to support the weight of fully loaded logging trucks, but that does not make it any less frustrating. All you do is look at the ground and pick a line through the least worst of it. I can only maintain 6-7 kph on flat bits and 9-10kph on the downhill bits because it is just so tedious picking the line.
There is one steep downhill with all that loose gravel splayed about. I find on sections like this, braking too much actually causes even less stability and higher likelihood of fishtailing. So my approach is to look far ahead on the road, find a line down the centre not in a tyre line, don’t brake, and just hold on and ride it out. Grip the bars not too tightly, allow some give. And above all, keep your weight centred and knees flexed. Expect the bike to be skittish and loose and feel like you are losing the rear. Expect the bike to float a bit sideways and don’t worry in those moments when the points of contact between the tyres and road become minimal. That approach has always worked so far, but it is not for the faint-hearted!
Eventually we come to the section where I crashed going uphill in 2016. Yes, the gravel through here is particularly atrocious. Not only is it big diameter and loose, but it’s also so thick in spots it’s almost like landscaping!
The trees have grown a lot in five years and there are no longer views out over the valley. The views are ‘pined’ in. I am, however, extremely impressed with myself back in 2016. In that blog entry, I talk about the grade being pretty steep at 8 percent or so. It is actually much steeper than that. It’s easily 10-12 percent. I can’t believe I made it up that far before falling off that time, and that I was able to pedal that grade for that long since my smallest ring was only 24 tooth on that ride. Go, Em! It does remind me how far I’ve got to go to get back to what I used to be able to do though!
I get to the steep, pointless hill I remember from last time. I push the bike uphill and then stand at the top and contemplate the steep downhill. Should we walk down? Verne says we should just go for it as there is a run-out at the bottom and we can see if a car is coming. Kermit says go for it because the gravel is not too thick or loose. It’s a decent diameter. So with the stuffed animals egging me on, I ski the bike down that steep hill. Definitely not for the anxiety-prone or those unwilling to take many risks. We reach 46 kph in just a couple hundred metres of run!
The rail trail carries us back down hill through lush forest that cries out: “Look at all the rain we’ve had! Look at what plants can do with adequate precipitation!” All of those shades of green give so much vibrancy to the landscape, and I’m just trying to soak it all in. It is just such a rare thing here for things to look so green, particularly in March!
I come across one cyclist riding uphill. She’s doing a return ride from Koetong pub up to Shelley and back. She’s short and squat and on a small bike. We stop for a quick chat. I am not sure if that was an ebike or not as I didn’t look closely, but I suspect it was. What I can’t get over is how low she had the seat. Surely whomever sold that bike to her would have given her a bit better bike fit so she can retain the use of her knee joints in the future. It’s good to see people getting out and about that don’t look like serious cyclists though.
We roll into the area near Mt Lawson Road where we camped back in February. It’s about 3pm. I could ride further back toward town today to more evenly distribute the kilometres between today and tomorrow. But this is a nice spot and a little bit better option than our pine tree spot further down.
So I set up the tent, crawl in and have a short nap. It’s too mozzie-ridden to be outside without long pants and my raincoat, yet it’s too warm right now to want to wear all of that. So hanging in the shade in the tent without the fly is the best option for relaxing.
The late autumn sun angle is so apparent today – it’s signalling that the long, lazy days of summer are over and nights will get crisp soon. I can’t believe how soon daylight savings will end. I only have 16 weeks of work left. I’ve already done a third of my contract. I really need to get moving on some of the preparation for the bike tour in September, as I won’t have any time to get organised then. I will finish work on 24 June, pack up my place and move everything to storage, get the carpets cleaned, check out with the real estate people between 25-27 June, travel to Sydney 28 June, fly out 29 June and then return to Oz on 17 September ready to go ride.
How exciting! But gosh there are some things to get together before then. But for now, let’s see how good I can get a clothes pillow tonight with the two pieces of clothing I have that are not on my body. Oh, how I love tent time!
Day 4 – 76 kms (47 miles)
It’s another beautiful day. And there’s no smoke yet from farmers burning off crops or the government doing planned burns. Enjoy it while you can! The air will get smoky soon.
I’m so glad I went for a ride this weekend. It was going to be very easy to say, “Nah, it’s going to rain a bunch Saturday, we’ll give it a miss.”
I enjoyed that day in the tent, sleeping, thinking, solving the world’s problems and just doing nothing at all. It was so much better than doing the same thing at home. I am fortunate that I’ve been deprived of riding for so long that I’m always keen to go. But human nature makes it easy to not go and to say: it’s too wet, it’s too cold, it’s too windy, I’m too tired, etc. But you very rarely regret it once you get out the door.
We cruise the long downhill – stopping at all of those freakin’ gates. I think there’s 12-14 gates to unlock, open, close and relatch over 18 kms.
Just after I get through a gate at the Big Bend, I hear sharp exhalations of breath from a large animal ahead. I then roll up behind a large bull. It is not always my first choice to be in the bull paddock. He is lumbering down the trail, churning up the surface and exhaling loud snorty breaths. A smaller bull is in a paddock up the hill and he is making all sorts of noise.
I call out, “Hey R82, I’m behind you. I’m just gonna roll by. It’s a nice morning isn’t it R82?”
R82, as named by the marking on his rear flank, slowly turns his head to look at me. He then swings his head back the other way and lumbers over to the edge of the trail. He pays me no mind. So I roll by slowly but ready to sprint if R82 has a change of mind about my presence. Never mess with mamas or animals with very big balls. That’s my perspective, anyway!
We roll on with a good, developing tailwind. We do stop in Tallangatta and go in the IGA to get a banana and apple. I take this over to a picnic bench when a fit couple in their 50s come over to me.
“Where are you heading?” they ask.
“Oh, I’ll disappoint you! I’ve just been out for four days in the bush and am heading home to Wodonga.”
It turns out they are on tour from Melbourne to Canberra and are having a rest day after a big day riding over from Bright the previous day. They are surprised to see the numbers of cyclists so far on their trip. But they are doing the standard route that uses the rail trail to Mansfield, climbs over the range to Whitfield then hooks up with the rail trail to Bright, then climbs the easy side of Tawonga Gap, heads up the Kiewa valley and then hooks into this rail trail before heading over the Snowys. So they’d see more people out on that sort of ride than a more remote or challenging route. It seems they are trying to stick to rail trails and sealed roads like that guy from Sydney I met on the trail at Christmas.
We then roll on toward Huon, seeing about 8 cyclists on the trail between Tallangatta and the boat ramp at Huon. It’s a very popular ride now to drive out to Huon, leave the car and ride to Tallangatta and back.
It’s pretty warm now, so I soak my shirt with water and do the couple kilometre climb up and over Huon Gap. I’m slow, but I manage just fine. There’s a max of 12 percent grade but only for a moment, the rest is in the 5-7% range. And that strong southeasterly is cooling me off with my wet shirt rather nicely.
I turn off on Coulston’s Road and let the bike run. It’s gravel and skittish but fast. From riding this previously, I know there’s a dodgy bit at the bottom where the water running over the road pools gravel. But we just fly through that at speed and only have one quick balance correction so that we don’t dump it out the other side. How fun it is to be back to barrelling down gravel roads!
Maher’s Road isn’t too busy – it’s just a local going one way or the other every 3-5 minutes. The road climbs up and down the detritus of the range’s erosion, so there is little flat terrain. The road drops to the wide Kiewa floodplain and then climbs back up to the edge of the hills repeatedly.
But it’s manageable because it’s not super hot, there are not too many flies messing about my face and the drivers are all being exceedingly polite as they pass me. Up, down to the floodplain, back up to the top of the hill and down again.
I’m feeling quite good. It’s amazing how much faster you can ride on chipseal than gravel and how much easier it is to climb a hill when you are just climbing a hill and not trying to pick a line and weave your way along at the same time. I really enjoy downhills where you don’t need to sight a line… you just roll down the hill and see how much speed you can accumulate. It seems so effortless to ride kms on chipseal after you’ve ridden so tediously slowly through pine plantations the day before.
There are three steep rollers toward the end of the road, but I churn these out and really don’t have too terrible of a time. My body is definitely building resilience. Yippee!
Just before the end of Maher’s Road, the rail trail takes off toward the river. We’ve got a tailwind and so I pedal hard and then coast the downhill with the wind. Zoom!
I look at the time on the cycle computer. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make it home in time for my weekly phone call with my parents. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. It’s mid-day and no one is out on the rail trail.
I turn off and weave in and out of all the people in the Bunnings parking lot, fang it up the hill past the KFC and then take the lane at the roundabout to the neighbourhood entry. Don’t you try to squeeze in and in front of me when I have right of way, hahahaha!
And then we’re on the last fast downhill before I commence a long sweeping turn with a shallow apex into my street and let the momentum carry me uphill on the driveway to my carport. I definitely feel like my rusty bike skills are getting better.
Our next ride will be in NSW because next weekend is Victoria’s Labour Day long weekend and the roads will be quieter out the back of Jindera on the NSW side. Nigel can FINALLY, 18 months after I first requested it, install the tow ball on the tow bar on my car and put in the trickle feed solar panel. And I can do a ride from there. The weather looks great, so let’s do another 3 days of work and then get back out there!