Unscripted – Part 2 – The final days of freedom

There is a moderately strong northeasterly trying to impede our progress. The waves on Lake Hume have whitecaps. They crash to shore with such force that I cannot give the guys a float. They’d just get tipped over. 

But it is sunny, and the day promises to be warm, as we round the southern shores on the rail trail. I know this rail trail very, very well now. I’ve ridden it a zillion times since it gives good access to several mountain valleys. It is convenient and scenic, but it does lack the thrill of riding somewhere new. 

Yes, it feels like a weekend ride. It’s just another ride where we know all the hills and valleys and how all the roads connect. There’s the possibility of some new roads to ride, but they will linked with roads we’ve ridden many times before.

There is good weather for the next five or six days. Cold, damp nights laden with dew and/or fog and warm, sunny days. I have about four different rides in my head that I could do by peeling off from the rail trail at various points. We’ve got four days to play with over Fri, Sat, Sun and Monday.

But it’s been a big couple weeks and the next couple weeks could be kinda stressful, too. So I pass by all the turn-offs to the more ambitious rides in my head and just have a lazy day climbing up the gentle grade on the rail trail.

While cruising the job ads on my week-long ride up to Cocoparra National Park, I saw an ad for a Project Manager listed. It sounded interesting and like it would extend the skills built in my last job. However, the pay was way more than I’ve ever earned, which made me think the job was probably out of my league. I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring anyway. So when I got back from the Cocoparra ride, I spent two full days crafting a cover letter, responding to the 12(!) selection criteria and tailoring my resume for the position.

After emailing the application, I took off the next day on the seven-hour drive to visit my old neighbour and cycling friend, Don. There is just no way to make that trip quicker – it’s just 7 hours of twisty mountain roads (you cross the Great Dividing Range and the Coastal Range) no matter which way you go.

Ahhh, we made it. Statler the sea turtle is happy to see some habitat at Short Point in Merimbula.
We had nice views from the balcony of our motel room, too. I had booked an unrenovated room without a view, but since I was staying for three nights, they upgraded me to one of the nicer rooms!

Don is doing excellent. Most times when you go visit old people, and it’s been several months or more since you’ve seen them, you notice a decline in their physical or cognitive health. Not so with Don. He’s doing so well! 

I had a very nice two days with him. And I survived taking him to church and attending the church luncheon with him on Saturday. It meant so much to him for me to take him to church, so I was happy to do that. And my atheism did not seem to bring fire and brimstone to the proceedings. 

The church sermon had verse readings mixed in with the congregation standing up to sing complicated hymns that everyone kinda fumbled through. They were not helped by a man that played a trumpet only during the refrains. He was always about a half-beat behind the pianist and a lady who was playing a violin off-key. 

I was, however, treated to the story of the Widow of Nain as the main sermon. How lucky can you be to get in on a sermon where Jesus makes people rise from the dead?! Apparently, he only raises the dead three times in the whole Bible – so I was lucky to catch that particular day. Of course, not being indoctrinated, and of the belief that the Bible would better be named “The big book of exaggerated ‘fish’ tales”, I felt like the story was just that… a story… or a crock of….

Overlooking the river/lake/estuary at Merimbula. Beyond the boats and sand bar you can see all the oyster leases. Don lives in a very nice nursing home at the top of that hill in the middle.
Looking down to the river mouth just off to the left. The main beach stretches all the way around that curve beyond the trees.

My plan to drive home on Sunday was stymied by a huge cold front that dropped 5 -10 inches of snow on the mountains and brought Cooma (a town I drive through on that trip) the lowest ever high temp (2.7C) for May. The Live Traffic website had “SNOW AND ICE” advisories for all of the possible routes home, and I don’t have snow chains, so I just waited a day. 

Sunday night I got an email asking me to come in for an interview for the Project Manager job on Wednesday. Yippee! A job is always within reach if you get to the interview stage.

The drive home Monday was gorgeous. There was still a considerable amount of snow on the roadsides anywhere above 700 metres, and the outside air temp hovered on 1C, but the roads were mostly just wet. 

As I ascended the coastal range, the tree tops were still coated in a thick layer of snow, and I tried to recall the last time I’d been in such gorgeous wintry weather. It was fun to watch the trees drop their wet loads in big puffs of thick snow.

That’s just wet, but with the air temp at 1C, I took it easy.

There was a fair bit of slush for about 4 kms either side of the Great Dividing Range, but the road was pretty empty, so I just took it slow and enjoyed the stark beauty of the burnt, black tree skeletons in contrast to the white snow that would plunk down on the car and windscreen with loud thunks when the wind blew. 

Deadhorse Gap at 1540 metres on the Great Dividing Range. We came this way on the bike on 12 March or so. It rained on us here that day.

Once I got below the snow line though, I had soooooo much fun driving to the road and not the speed limit. I took the Alpine Way both ways this trip. There’s no commercial traffic on that road, and there was little tourist traffic, so I could rally car drive it and have so much fun. It was also fun to think about how different it was to drive than ride (since I just rode this road back in mid-March).

The featured instrument this week on ABC Classic FM was the violin. Oh, yes!! I am all about the strings! On my way over, the featured instrument was the trumpet which doesn’t speak to me like the strings (I’m a string and percussion gal – not so big on brass or woodwinds). I am certain that my soul resonates to the cello – that particular stringed instrument speaks to me in deep ways I cannot explain. So even though this was violin, it was like the soundtrack was picked to match a rally car drive through the Snowys. Those soaring concertos and suites for violin by Bach, Vivaldi and others (but not Schubert – don’t like him so much) give me just as much energy as my beloved punk music. 

Zinged our way through Tom Groggin while this was playing.

So Monday I came flying out of the mountains to Khancoban on a fast, curvy driving, violin high.

And bits of this got us from Geehi and on past the power station toward Khancoban.

I then studied up on all things related to the Project Manager job on Tuesday, did the interview Wednesday, felt pretty good about it, and heard from my references that they’d been called for ref checks on Thursday (very good sign!).

12-14 May 2023

171 kms (106 miles)

But the weather is perfect today (Friday), and it may be my last weekend ride for a while since the cold weather is closing in and I could potentially be employed soon. So here we are fighting into the wind on the rail trail. 

No floating for the guys with waves that big. See all that fog in the valley in the distance? Yep, we’re going that way. No hurry to get there until that burns off.
That’s a new picnic table by one of the old trestle bridges behind it. Good views over to Mt Brutal from this section of the trail, too.

Not much has changed, but they do have a path built next to the road over Boggy Creek now. You used to have to get on the road for this bit. Then they carved out a very narrow rough track that you had to push the bike along with difficulty. But the path is full-size now and means you can stay off the road all the way from Wodonga to Shelley.

Easy traverse of Boggy Creek now with a full width path – this is a ride-around since you can’t ride over the old trestle bridge over the creek here.

I camp in my favourite spot near Koetong. I could do the Forbidden valley track tomorrow, but it would take me up the Cravensville Road which I’ve ridden twice in the past 12 months. I could also ride up to Mt Lawson. I’ve ridden about a third of that road but not the top bits. We’ll see what we feel like tomorrow.

Saturday arrives with cold overnight lows and a soaked tent inside and out. I decide I really don’t feel like doing much.  It’s been a big couple weeks. The next few weeks could be pretty intense, too. What I really want is to just hang out in the forest and soak up all the peace and quiet far away from others. After all the years of sickness, I’m now really in tune with my body and its ebbs and flows of energy and what it needs physically, mentally and nutrition-wise. At least I gained that from all those years of crap. And my body is telling me today that it doesn’t want any more stress on it.

Laze the day away here. We’ve camped here quite a few times now.

So I laze the day away in the sun. I did note this morning that I got a call yesterday at 4.55pm from the organisation I interviewed with on Wednesday. That is a really good sign: interview Wed arvo, refs called Thurs arvo, phone call Friday arvo after their Board meeting. 

But I am not counting chickens before they hatch. Today, I am soaking up the sun, the quiet, the movement of the leaves on the gentle breeze, and the sight of dew droplets twinkling and then evaporating in the sun. 

Verne’s reaction when I said the tour is definitely over now and we’ll be back to work, one way or another, soon.
Kermit didn’t take it too well either.

In my head, I go through all the ways I’m going to manage work stress. I practice all the breathing exercises I’ve learned over the past three years. I think about how I’m going to manage nutrition and possible eating schedules based on an office job. I take all that peace and quiet to formulate a plan for going forward that won’t regress my health. I’ve learned so much over the past few years. Now it’s time to test myself mentally. Through the seven months of touring, I now know what my body can deal with physically (A LOT!! YIPPEEE!). This will be a good test of mental work stress and how I manage that.

If you’ve never tried breathing exercises, I highly recommend you try some. I do square breathing and the 4-7-8 method when I’m taking a break during riding and after I finish for the day. Grover teaches the basic 4-7-8 method at 2.51 in this video. If preschoolers can do it, so can you! It really helps to switch your nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) mode that you activate with exercise to parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. There are a lot more breathing exercises out there, and I’ve got a big repertoire these days, but ‘square breathing’ and 4-7-8 are good places to start. Do 10 reps.

I cuddle right down in the bag Saturday night, with the guys cuddled into my shoulder. I sleep the last night in the tent for awhile. I’m going to ride all the way home tomorrow instead of breaking it into two days. I want to be able to ring the organisation back on Monday and get my flu shot – so all the cruddy feeling from that is over with while I don’t need to think. 

The morning is bright. Sun filters through the trees and mist in long and slanted rays. The noisy birds are absent. The only sound is water droplets falling from the tent fly onto the tent body. It’s pretty early, but up we get. 

The ride down the rail trail goes fast between the gates. The 14(!) gates you have to open and close over 10 kilometres is the most annoying part of this trail. If I won the lottery, or was one of those Baby Boomers with huge accumulated wealth, I’d donate the money for them to convert all those locked pedestrian gates to little cattle grids. 

We descend into fog for a while, the bright sun receding and taking all the sound with it. 

We emerge from the fog into more bright sun. Yep, we are rapidly heading into fog season, if we are not already there. My part of Oz gets pretty cold in ‘winter’ (lows -5 to 5C) overnight compared to other areas, and we often have fog since there are so many river valleys here. But it’s never really winter – you’ve got to head up to the ski fields above 1000 metres to reliably see snow. But fog? Yeah, we get ‘fog’ season instead of ‘winter’ here.

The northeasterly is building as I head into Tallangatta. It’s not as strong as the winds I rode into Friday, but maybe it will get that way later. I’d say 80 percent of the times I’ve ridden through here, there will be a moderate wind blowing down valley in the morning. 

There’s not a whole heap of people out on the rail trail, but the parks along the way are bursting. As I ride through Wodonga and Albury on the bike path, I am amazed at all the people out enjoying the gorgeous weather. Every single picnic table is full – even in places where I rarely see people. 

Then it dawns on me. It’s Mothers Day. Wow – how lucky are they to have such great weather for a picnic in the park! And, Happy NOT Mothers Day to me!! The thought of being pregnant absolutely disgusts me (and that is not too strong of a word), and I’ve been so careful my entire life with birth control because I so definitely never wanted kids, so I always congratulate myself on a job well done on this day. Haha!

I make good time on the bike path through town – realising I haven’t ridden the Bungambrawatha Trail through town since probably around 2008 – the last time I lived in good ol’ Lavington. Time flies when you are… busy!

The traffic is pretty light riding up and over Jindera Gap. There’s always a fair amount of traffic on this road these days, and there are two quite unsafe sections where you are forced into the lane by vegetation and guard rails. What makes it most unsafe, though, are the drivers. Even where there are two lanes (climbing and passing lanes) toward the top of the Gap, drivers will still often skim you in the climbing lane, even if the other lane is completely clear. And yep, 5 of the 6 cars don’t bother to give me any of the lane on the way up when all of them could have given me the full lane. Sheesh. 

Look at those crimson trees! Part way up Jindera Gap – just after you get through the two bits where guard rails force you into the lane. Good shoulder until the steeper bit where the climbing lane takes the shoulder. That would be fine if cars gave you the climbing lane and used the passing lane. But they generally don’t extend that courtesy!

And then we are home. 100 kms almost and I feel good. Now to just keep the good health continuing as we get back to a ‘normal’ life for 18 months!

[And yeah, I did get the job. How funny – my job will be working with 11 councils to develop and implement disaster risk reduction plans (among other things). I saw this job advertised when I was riding up through a bunch of the council areas I’ll be working with! 

And maybe I finally plopped into a career path at age 47. It will be the first time ever on my resume where two work entries will have the same title! When I grow up I want to be… a project manager! Lol. The best news is that this job literally pays twice as much as the job I got knocked back for a few weeks ago. And funnily enough, I’ll be working in the same office building as the other job, just with a different organisation. 

Also, in those weird ways of the world, housing sorted itself out, too. I’m going to basically house-sit for friends who are moving back to Melbourne for a couple years to give their daughter better sporting opportunities (she’s an elite player and has been headhunted by the Aus Inst of Sport – sort of our Olympic training centre). So job, house and a good income all came together super quickly! 

Riding one day, working the next! 18 months of work, here I come!].

So back when I was riding in East Gippsland in those final weeks of the big ride, this song by a pop-punk band kept coming to mind. They aren’t one of my most favourite bands, but I don’t mind their stuff live. This song talks about making the most of every moment… ‘reach for the sky’ because ‘tomorrow may never come’. So that kept coming to my head in March and April, and I kinda decided to ‘reach for the sky’ and apply for a job that I thought was out of my league based on the salary. By ‘reaching for the sky’, I landed the job! I much prefer a live pop punk version of this song, but I’ve included an acoustic version as it is more accessible to people who prefer easy listening music (which I think is many of my readers!).
So if you please, take this moment
Try if you can to make it last
Don’t think about no future
And just forget about the past
… make it last

7 thoughts on “Unscripted – Part 2 – The final days of freedom

  • Verne’s reaction is priceless. Well done you with the new job. Just get this work, life, food and gut balance right and you can do anything.

    Glad to hear Don is going so well too. Fancy recovering from the accident so well – he must be a tough bloke.

    Now all you have to do is get the Councils to sort out their disaster risk reduction plans before El Niño settles in and dries the country out!!

    • Thanks, Tony. Hopefully the quick change from flooding to el Nino will help keep interest up and councils engaged with the project!

  • Em!!!!!

    I’m sure you’ll do great things in that job and really help the people. I’m pleased to hear you have seamlessly moved from the road to regular life. I’m sure you are already planning the next tour for when you finish your contract. I look forward to the rest of your posts from this trip but will then really miss your writing once those are finished. You are so inspiring, my dear! I think we all wish we could live your life (the non sick parts anyway).

    • Thanks, Evan. The good thing about working on a contract is that you have an end date/next tour start date 🙂

  • I second Evan’s comment. We all live through your adventures Em. You are the most inspiring person I know! Enjoy the highs.

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