Unscripted – Part 2 – January Teaser

Here is a teaser summary of life on the forest roads for January. I’ll write up the trip properly when the weather turns and I wrap up this part of the tour.

I’m currently in Bairnsdale where the super-knowledgeable and helpful staff at Bairnsdale Bikes are hooking me up with a new chain, spare tubes and a few other bits and pieces of maintenance. The vibe there is awesome and they even have a coffee bar if you need a caffeine fix. So give them a visit if you are in that town and need some bike love.

January has been a dream come true. The type of riding I’ve always wanted to do became possible with Atlas, and I’ve thrown myself into it.

We’ve been doing hard climbs and bombing down the hills on every possible variation of gravel known to be laid and eroded.

We got up before 5am and rode water source to water source each day during the 10-day heatwave, slogging up out of a creek valley on tyre-spinning grades, roller-coastering the steep ups and downs along the ridge, and then flying over rough rock and loose gravel to the next valley. We did go 11 days without a proper shower at one point. But grinding out the ridge climbs for hours at a time, flying down to a campsite in the early arvo, cooking up lentils and rice on the stove, and sleeping every night in my tent is everything I think a tour should be. I have so loved being out in the forest.

My worst nightmare came true, however, when I came down with COVID deep in the bush. I had only been indoors for a total of 15 minutes on the trip, but the visibly ill checkout chick at the corryong IGA was only wearing a mask over her mouth. The transaction took about 3 minutes and I was wearing an N95 mask, but it was enough. 2 days later, a lumpy throat and a niggle I couldn’t swallow arrived. Let it be a lesson: just imagine the viral load I could have gotten if I were sitting at the table next to her in a restaurant and neither of us were wearing masks!

Luckily, I only had a mild sore throat for 3 days. I did hard rides those days, however, because I had to – I wanted to get to a town in case I got worse. I scrubbed 2 days off the route and took 3 days off at a public campground in a tiny town of 200. I felt okay, so continued.

One morning, a couple days later, a blister the size of a 50-cent piece appeared on my tyre – this will cause a blowout if you continue to ride on it. So I gingerly rode back to the nearest town, booked into a caravan park, talked my way onto a reservation only bus service to the next town, went to a tiny kayak/bike/paddleboard shop who miraculously happened to have a tyre that would work, and caught the bus back that night.

COVID was still giving me 3 hours of headache and fatigue each arvo, so I took it as a sign and took off 3 more days.

But then I was fine. No symptoms whatsoever after day 9. I’m still keeping cumulative climbing down and taking rest days frequently to be extra careful though.

But we are back to big climbs and people in disbelief when they see me high on a ridge deep in the forest on a pushbike with gear. When I speak to people, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, and tell them where I’m heading or have been, they inevitably say, “Ohhh, that is steep!”

At least 4 people have said, “You must be a very keen cyclist!” Yes, I am. Never underestimate a middle-aged chick who spent 4.5 years feeling like shit.

Good views are a daily thing. This is looking over to the Youngal Range in mid-pic and the Main Range and Oz’s highest peak in the background.
Views, views, views. I love feeling deep in the forest with ridges and valleys all around in 360 degrees.
We’ve been pretty appalled at the 2019-20 fire salvage logging (i.e. flogging) that has been brutal in so many places. This should all be forest, or at least standing dead trees. Up around 1300 metres here.

The best part though is just being on the bike. I’ve always been a cyclist – from age 5. I love nothing more than being on a bike. I have met a few people in life who ride for fitness – the bike is a means to an end for their need to have a ‘nice’ body.

I’ve never understood that. For me, the bike has always been the means, the ends, and everything in between. I just love to pedal, and pedal and pedal.

Lots of nice campsites.
The guys have had lots of good floats.

I have loved these hard slogs, wobbling up and over embedded human head-sized rocks while on a 12 percent grade. I’ve loved trying to maintain my balance on the steep grades with loose shale scattered all over the surface. I’ve loved learning how the bike handles at 50 kph on a downhill strewn with big, loose rock and assorted size gravel. I love the steep downhills where the tears wedge out of the corner crease of your eye only to be followed by a steep uphill demanding full concentration to pick your line through the jumble of hard earth cobbled together to be called a road. I love the climbs that weave in and out of each drainage, ever ascending to four-digit metres.

I love taking in the views, reading the weather (no phone reception so no app assistance out here!), getting into camp, and setting the guys out for a float while I filter water, cook dinner, clean the drivetrain and set up the tent. I love cuddling down in the bag knowing I get to do it all over again the next day.

Riding all the dirt roads means I have to clean the drive train every night! That tyre is meant to be all black – it does not have a brown sidewall!

Life is reduced to such simplicity. It’s days and days of Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. It’s feeling like I’m growing as a cyclist and improving my bike skills and achieving a point in my bike career where I feel confident to ride hard (for me) dirt roads and have the outdoor skills built that allow me to bring cycling and camping together in a very fulfilling way.

If this is all I could do for the rest of my days, I would die a very happy woman. This, to me, months of totally self-sufficient forest cycling, where you disappear into the bush for a week or so at a time, is the pinnacle of tour cycling.

A common part of my day. Dive down to a creek.
Then climb steeply out the other side around the next spur.
Then, after a few days, pop out into farmland.
So many curves and twisties and rollercoaster ups and downs. I wonder how many curves I’ve ridden.

And I’ve come back from absolute zero to get here. I am beyond grateful every day to be out here doing these rides. I can remember all those days, at least 1500, when I absolutely scraped myself out of bed. It brings happy and grateful tears to my eyes sometimes to think how far we’ve come.

All views, all the time. Except when we are in the clouds and it is foggy. That is Mt Elizabeth. We’ll be heading south and around that range later this week.

My word recall is still crap, my short term memory is not the same, and my thermoregulation is still fucked, but I’ve made a full physical recovery (or remission). For now at least.

The good doctor in Melbourne said to expect a relapsing, remitting disease and to never expect more than 85 percent of previous capacity. But I’m back to 100%, and so grateful to have achieved remission with full capacity.

There have been days on the road in the past that have been perfect, where I could not think of a better place to be than right there, right then. Inevitably, those were the days on remote roads or landscapes with few humans. I remember one day in Wyoming feeling this way and thinking that it all boiled down to: I am Em. I am a cyclist. And I ride.

Well, nearly every day this month has felt that way. But, now, as an underestimated middle-aged chick on a mountain bike that rides steep shit, I think it goes like this: I am Em. I am a VERY KEEN cyclist. And I ride. Again.

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See where we’ve been below. This is pretty accurate except for the first day out of Jindera where stupid RideWithGPS won’t let me route down the freeway no matter what I do.

Some other stats:

Days in a row without speaking to anyone: 2, 3 and 2

Days with no cars on the road: 8

Days of some rain: 4

Days of mostly rain: 3

Days of all dirt, no chipseal: 7

Number of nights in the tent in the bush: 14

Number of nights in the tent at a caravan park: 9 (would have been 3 or 4 if not for covid and the tyre blister)

Number of nights roofed accommodation: 2 (because the caravan park in Bairnsdale has shitty and unsecure tent sites, and I thought I could spoil myself after 24 nights in the tent. Plus, it’s a treat to myself because I celebrate 25 years since I first came to Oz on Wednesday, and I’ll be back in the bush then).

16 thoughts on “Unscripted – Part 2 – January Teaser

  • You are such an inspiration Em! I am pleased as punch that you are having this trip and that the weather has gotten a bit better 😉 Thanks for writing it up – I love living vicariously through you. Greetings from postdoc world in Sydney!!

    • Thanks, Catherine! Different times in life are meant for different things. I hope you are deep into research that you are passionate about and there is continued funding to keep it going. All the best 🙂

  • hi tonys friend in tasmania. your rides are an insperation .im glad you feel on top of the world with your choice of adventer , keep it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I’ve been wondering how you and Atlas plus the guys are going. In two words – GOING GREAT!!

    You deserve it. Other middle-agers are off on cruises or relaxing on crowded beaches and look at you. No crowds, wonderful scenery, great bike, great bike route plus a quick blast of covid to remind you what things can be like.

    I’ll keep experimenting with lentils and rice – it’s obviously power food. Go Emily.

    • Add in porridge, peanut butter, rice cakes and red gummy snakes to the grocery list, too. I get a bit tired of all of them after about 10 days, but after some veggies in town, I’m good to go again. We’ve done a lot of climbing on those foods, so obviously it works for my weirdo guts!

  • The rough roads. The Australian backcountry. The forests. The vistas. The solitude. The challenging climbs and exhilarating descents. You LUCKY DOG!

    • Yeah, believe me, I don’t take a single hour out there for granted. But after ‘investing’ $20,000 of my own cash in doctors, specialists, tests, treatments and supplements to get well – it is a sweet payback for all of that. It means the trip can’t be as long as it might otherwise have been, but at least I can do the trip at all!

  • Hi Emily, I have a big smile now, after reading about the latest leg of your nearly lifelong journey on a bicycle. Your cycling capabilities and endurance are remarkable despite several roadblocks in the last few years. All of us thank you for the well written and honest chronicles of your adventures. (The original blue 20″ bike might have been a good “chopper” conversion.) Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad. Maybe finding a Columbia blue angel is easier than finding another Sebastian – converting to a chopper would be fun but not sure I could cut up an ‘angel’ bike!

  • Wow you are amazing. Words can not describe my amazement, I sit here telling Scott and he goes shit that is a lot of up hill riding. I smile and shake my head in disbelief of such accomplishment. So very happy you are back doing what you love. Ride ride ride girl! Love it.

    • I can’t believe my body can do it after all the crap I went through. But enjoying the views for the team while you tackle all that change. Look forward to catching up when I’m back up that way. Still a few more mtns to climb before it gets cold.

  • Aaahhh! What a delight to read about your ramblings! Thanks so much for sharing your life. It makes my world a little bigger..or is it a little smaller?? I’ll have to think on that. I love following your adventure!! Hug the little guys for me!!

    • Thank you Shirley! The guys loved the hugs. I am doing this now while I can – I won’t have the strength or endurance in years to come. It is inevitable that your world gets smaller as time goes on, so I’m doing my best to make the most of it as I go. Hope you are doing well and enjoying the cooler, non-humid weather time of year there.

  • Hello Emily!! So fun to read your latest installment of your adventures! You may be middle-aged, but you kick ass!! I love seeing someone doing EXACTLY what they want to do in life.

    • Thanks, Joanna! I’ll go find some work again soon enough but I’ll be putting money away for the next ride. So great to hear from you – I hope you and your family are going very well!

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