The magpie flies overhead and calls as it lands on the power line stanchion. The angle of the sun has settled further down in the sky at mid-day. There’s shade in the yard from the nature reserve trees well into the morning now.
The passing of time is always cause for reflection. Autumn has always said to me that things will be okay, even in those really hard times in life. And here we are in autumn again.
Oh, Maggie, you swooped me when I would walk through the nature reserve behind my house. But you never swooped me in my yard, even when your young one came to hang out in the afternoons with me in September. He had no fear.
And so time is moving on. I’ll be on the road when you launch your next brood and are swooping again, dear Maggie.
I’ve already done more than two months of work. I only have 13 weeks left in the contract. It’s interesting to partake in a job in which you already have short-timer syndrome when you start. I do my best, but in the end, I don’t really care how all the projects end up. I’ve really taken the approach to these hooley-dooley projects that my dad always did in his work: ‘well, you can’t make it any worse, so whatever you do will be much better than if nothing had been done at all”. So I’m doing what I can to turn around a project that should have been dead back in 2020. I’ve done more in the past 4 days than the guy who replaced me managed to do in six months.
But really, my head is already away from here, from this small, dark apartment and the 23 hours of work I put in each week.
Yet seeing the magpie cruising a late afternoon autumn sky makes me feel a bit melodramatic, because endings are endings whether happy or sad. They are a readjustment, a change, like being stirred up from the bottom of the pot. Routines are easy and familiar no matter how boring. And change, even if it is good, requires more energy and bravery and extension of comfort levels than just staying in a comfortable routine. And the change is coming in hot and heavy – not just in season, but in this segment of life.
I’m fixing up the last bits of ill health. All the gut testing has come back. And yep, my guts are messed up. I’ve known this since December 2017 but had to work through all the other infectious stuff before we could get to this. But now we really know what’s wrong – high levels of intestinal hyperpermeability; a heap of fat malabsorbption; low levels of beneficial bacteria; overgrowths of 2 bacteria in my small and large intestine; and low immune levels. Turns out most people in America and Australia probably have some amount of dysbiosis and leaky gut, but their symptoms turn up as autoimmune diseases, seasonal allergies, skin issues, obesity and other things instead of digestive problems. They are linking the gut microbiome to more and more disease – it’s a fascinating and fast-moving area of research!
But there is a plan to fix my ills, and the 50-day protocol is pretty full-on. So I’m confident that I’m closing out this segment of life. Ready to move on and finish healing. The protocol would have been impossible on the road, so it’s been good to be stationary and working while I take a plethora of pills at certain times each day.
I’ve been riding every day – 20 kms here; 30 kms there. I’ve been riding up to the dam a lot and enjoying the gorgeous autumn afternoons in the shade while reading a book about how all the traumas of childhood influence your behaviour in the present. (I was skeptical to start, but I’ve had a few “oh… yeah… ” moments than I can work on).
No overnight rides as I need to not cause extra stress to my body as I titrate up the anti-microbials. I should be able to get back out around Easter or a bit after, as I’ll be up to the highest dosage and the die-off symptoms should be over by then. Antibiotics can be used for these problems. But the research shows that the herbal anti-microbials are just as effective. They take longer, but they are a much less nuclear option which is important with gut microbes.
In the meantime, I thought I should use this post as an FAQ for the upcoming tour. I keep getting the same questions from friends, family and bike colleagues. So here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about the next segment of life, in the spring season, when the magpies will be swooping once again.
Why are you touring central and southwestern VIC?
I suppose this route has been in my head since I rode over to the Grampians in March 2013. It’s about exploring more of the state and checking out some areas where I’ve never spent much time. I’ve driven through a lot of these areas, or taken a bus through these areas, but I’ve never really travelled in this area at a pace that allowed an understanding of the landscape.
There is a lot of volcanic geology to understand and the route idea wanders around the tail end of the Great Dividing Range. My goal is to connect up as many ‘green bits’ (i.e. state and national parks, state forest, conservation reserves, etc) as possible.
I think this tour will last from mid-Sept 2022 to late-November 2022, but I don’t have any specific timeline set for it. I have a basic idea of a route but will be quick to change it up if I find some things aren’t worth visiting or find other things that I want to explore once I’m out there. This tour will go through small towns frequently enough to feel pretty civilized and to not need to carry more than 4-5 days of food and 2-3 days of water at any time. It will ease me into the more remote riding to come.
Where are you riding after the September-November tour?
The idea is to return to Albury and swap out bikes and then go ride in the Victorian high country in the North East and Gippsland regions. It looks like handlebars are obtainable at the moment, so hopefully I’ll get my Salsa all fitted out in the next couple of months ready for a rough-roads-in-the-high country tour. I have a good idea of how I want to pack/set-up that bike now, so it’s just a matter of sourcing all the component upgrades and gear I don’t yet own.
I don’t have any set route for the high country tour. I’ll just figure it out as I go. I have an idea of some places I’d like to visit, but I’m really comfortable with the idea of just taking it as it comes. It’s a real shift in the way I’ve approached things in the past, and I think it is a much healthier one.
I think of this next bit as the “Choose your own adventure” tour. Do you remember those books? Maybe you have to be an American-born Gen X-er? I LOVED those books as a kid. You read a bit of narrative and then you have to choose what you want to do next. This sends you to different pages in the book depending on your choice. The books have up to forty different endings depending on what choices you make. (My favourite was The Mystery of Chimney Rock).
So this is like the map version of that book. Don’t know where I’m going, but I do think I’ll start south of Lake Eildon and work east. I think I’ll wander around until it starts to get cold and snowy at higher elevations in May.
What are you using for navigation?
Old school paper maps. I’ve never felt any need for anything more detailed in the rural and regional areas of NSW and VIC. I’ve got a good sense of direction and I’m not afraid to take a road heading the direction I want to go, even if it’s not on the map. It’s always turned out okay in the end. I’ve only been completely lost once (in America – in the hillbilly hills of western Illinois where I’m sure I heard banjos playing), and even then, I eventually found my way to a highway and got back on track.
I think the need for a GPS becomes more important in remote and outback areas. (But you’d be stupid not to take paper maps as a back-up in those situations anyway). GPS would probably be useful in cities, too, but I never ride in towns big enough where I’m not comfortable with a ‘follow your nose’ approach. I don’t really need elevation profiles or turn-by-turn routing – just more of a general guide.
Really, in regional and rural NSW and VIC, all you need is a regional RACV map and you’ll be fine, as long as you stay off B and C roads. It’s a super simple and light weight option with no need to ever find electricity.
I did look at getting a GPS for the high country ride, as you do need more than an RACV map for all the remote bush roads. I ended up looking at ones aimed at hikers, as the information I really want is related to topo lines, water sources and where public land begins and ends. But I decided against this option because it still seemed a bit over the top. The deal killer, though, was the battery life. It would need to be charged every other day, and I am not willing to work through all the logistics of that when I want to be out in the bush for up to 10-12 days at a time. Hikers move through the landscape much more slowly, so they wouldn’t need the unit turned on so much, so I suspect it is better value in terms of battery life for that sort of activity. But add in the cost of the unit, the weight of the unit, and the cost of the subscription service, and I’m happy to just stick with Rooftop maps in the bush and allocating a bit of time when I’m in towns to do some planning using various apps.
One of the things I love about riding is the simplicity of it. And that simplicity includes being away from electricity and technology and just soaking up nature. You can plan the life out of a ride and know where you are every moment of every day. But that has no appeal to me.
When I’m looking at potential routes, I do use google maps, and, to a lesser extent, ridewithgps and komoot. Komoot is better for gravel, forest roads. RidewithGPS is better with road routes. I don’t bother with Strava. Even when I’m using google maps in terrain mode, I still like sitting near my big map on the wall or a paper regional map. They are already ‘zoomed out’ and work like a second screen 😊
In the end, my favourite maps for the high country are the Rooftop series, and I’ll use them on this trip, too.
Here are some of the route planning sites and apps I use. Some are ones that let me look at surface geology maps to see where the interesting rocks and geomorphology might be. Some list important geosites:
How long are you going to be on the road?
I don’t know. When the money I’ve allocated to the tour runs out or I decide I’m done?
On my previous tours, I was SO not ready to finish at four or five months. I definitely wanted to keep riding. It will be interesting to see how long I feel like riding this time. And for those of you who just said, “Oh no, you’re never going to go home!”… well, would that be terrible?
I think I’ve got about 18-24 months of cash allocated to this tour. In my normal life, I live on about $25,000-$27,000 AUD a year, and that includes everything (e.g. rent, insurance, running a car, food, utilities, leisure activities, one trip to America each year) except the medical costs I’ve incurred since West Nile.
I’ve found on my previous tours that it is much cheaper to live on the road than in domesticity. I think it will be interesting to see how much money is really required to sustain myself. I’m roughly budgeting $1000 a month, or trying to stick to $200 a week, but this will need to cover bike maintenance and bits, in addition to food and accommodation costs. One tyre costs $100. Tubes are usually around $10. I expect the mountain bike versions will be even more.
So I suspect some weeks I will spend less than $100, but when a bike bit needs maintenance or replacement parts, that will bring the budget back to breakeven. I will also still need some pretty expensive supplements to ensure I maintain good gut health, so that will be a bit spendy within the $200 budget, too.
I can budget higher amounts per week, but I want to see how little I can consume over 12 months. How much money does it really cost to be happy? How much money does it cost to live when you spend money on physically, spiritually and emotionally-enriching experiences (i.e. riding) instead of on things?
And just keep in mind that I’ve spent more than $15,000 in the past 4.5 years on medical tests, medication, supplements, specialists, etc in my quest to heal. Just think how long I could have ridden if I’d been able to divert that to the touring fund! And thank goodness I did not pay anything for the two gastroscopies or to have my gallbladder removed!
Are you going to ride for a charity?
No. I don’t think much of individual charity rides, to be honest. But if you think the adventures and kays ridden are deserving of contribution to a charity, then please go right ahead and give some cash to a non-profit.
Choose your own interest, or I might suggest at a national level: the Amy Gillett Foundation, the Australian Conservation Foundation or The Wilderness Society.
Or donate to a local climate action, native forest protection or cycle safety group, such as Goongerah Environment Centre or Save our Strathbogie Forest. Lots of good groups here: https://www.climateforchange.org.au/climate_movement
Why don’t you move to Instagram or youtube?
I’m happy to continue writing up my journals for my personal memory, and then post that journal to this blog for family and friends. I have no desire to build followers or get ‘views’, etc. If people find my blog somehow and find it interesting and want to skim through stuff, that’s great. But not necessary.
I started posting to a bike website on my first tour as a way to give back to a community that had helped me figure out some routes, etc on my first tours. But it is so easy to do your own planning these days that I don’t think anyone really needs that sort of help now, so I don’t aim for that anymore. This blog will come up if you are in Oz and google a road name I’ve included in the blog. So someone doing some in-depth route planning will likely find it anyway.
As for youtube, I think that very few people actually make good videos. And doing videos well would require a lot more gear, a lot more weight, and yet more things that need to be charged! No thanks.
I deleted all of my social media accounts at the EOFY 2021. I was thinking of all the things I wanted to change in my life to help me heal. I realized I wasted a lot of time on the computer and scrolling through my facebook feed and it didn’t really bring me any joy. So I identified that I needed to reduce my time on the internet overall, and specifically on sites like facebook and those with forums, etc. Facebook used to be interesting, but then people stopped posting anything but happy crappy stuff and kid or pet photos. Boring. So I ditched that and haven’t looked back.
Limiting my internet time each day has also been very positive. You don’t realise how much time you waste on social media, etc, until you stop. I do continue to follow a few people who run their own individual blogs or websites, but I’ve abandoned most everything else I used to waste time on. Here are two blogs, and their associated videos, that I always felt were worth the time. Unfortunately, neither of them are on the road anymore. I used to really look forward to their posts.
Bike wanderer – https://www.bikewanderer.com/
Jin Jeong – https://www.universewithme.com/about-me-2/
What happens at the end of your tour?
Again, I don’t know. I’m really comfortable with that, too. I know that office work is not good for your health. So I’m keen not to go back to doing what I was doing. It prevented me from recovering and I think it could relapse my post-viral fatigue/CFS pretty quickly if I went back to more than 23 hours a week (what I’m working now). I do have good connections and excellent references now through my work in local and state government… so I could always go back to that sort of work if needed.
However, I think when you let things run and are open to possibilities, then things just happen. Doors open. Opportunities present themselves. So I’m just going to see what happens and just ensure I’m open to whatever comes along. I’ve told myself to say NO to other people’s needs and wants more often but to also say YES more often to offers of assistance and adventure. We’ll see where it leads.