It took a year to get there. A year to ride 380km. An absolute snails pace. For the long version, read below, and enjoy this 2 minute snippet from the ride.
I like circles.
This circle began in Bright - on a weekend trip to Mystic Mountain with some mates in July 2018.
The first wet and slippery run of the day involved me stepping off my steed in an ungainly fashion for a minor soil inspection. Not an uncommon process in the field of off-road cycling.
On the drive home I noticed a redness in my thumb. 0.5 on a 10 point pain scale but all the same I noticed something was wrong with it. Like a thorn had gone in, or worse, a minor fracture. I didn't think much about it. Thorns go away or come out, fractures heal with rest.
Except this one wasn't doing either.
As it continued to inflame I did what a sensible person might do and saw a doctor - got an an x-ray - no break. A physio couldn't find an issue and all the rest wasn't aiding the recovery.
On a Friday night I sent a message to my good friend, and someone familiar with my record of self-inflicted injuries, Dr Dominic Briscomb, of my thumb.
His reply was short. 'Mate, go to hospital and get it checked out'.
I drove myself into emergency department of the Austin, a second home it would soon become.
A plastics surgeon saw me shortly afterwards and with furrowed brow said 'it's not great - do you mind if I give it a squeeze?'.
With barely a nod of consent he applied pressure to my thumb - and a raging tiger swelled inside me, and with all my strength I stopped it from punching him in the face. 'That hurts? Let me get a scalpel'.
He gave the site a slight slice and then squeezed for Australia. Some colourful language flew thick and fast.
He put the tool down.
'Good thing you came in tonight. If you'd come in tomorrow we'd be removing your thumb'.
Your joking said I.
'I don't joke about amputations' he said.
Things moved quickly and I woke hours later.
The first (of 2) debridement surgeries was done.
When the bandages came off - this was what was left of my thumb. Notably a vast amount of infected and now dead tissue still present. Turns out the culprit was an MRSA bug which I'd collected in my travels. Not pointing fingers (or thumbs) but it seemed to originate in our household, just that I was the most susceptible to it.
My good mates at Curve thought they'd cheer me up by delivering my brand new Kevin GXR frameset to me which I was still under nurses care. Riding was a long way from my thoughts - but the choice of build kit and wondrous things to assemble for future adventures was not!
The build kit also included these tasty morsels!
Wheelworks NZ hand built for rough roads - 650b (27.5) / 30mm wide carbon rims - Dial hubs for SRAM XD with a SON front dynamo hub and FYXO reflective decals.
The box was very sweet too!
I'll go into full detail in a seperate soliloquy of the components and bikepacking kit.
Thinking I'm on the way to recovery and old mate MRSA is behind me I focused on healing the hand, and then regaining movement and strength in it.
Ol' Dirty 2018 rolled around and so did I in the field. With what began as an ingrown hair in my upper thigh earlier in the week - escalated quickly.
It was a moment during this day that I told my good friend, and nurse BG of what had been going on (with my hand to date). Sometimes it takes the words and wisdom of a friend for you to firmly apply the handbrake on life. I mentioned I was on vancomycin and he conveyed in laypersons terms what that meant. It's a VERY powerful antibiotic with VERY few stronger than it - and should it stop being effective then well, you know how that story ends.
I've avoided death previously due in part to my own negligence. That was a mistake I didn't want to repeat now the gravity of the issue was crystal clear.
Once again I presented to the Austin Emergency department. Becoming an expert in this area I was already marking rings around the redness to measure the efficacy of infection.
I'll spare you the video post-op of the meter long piece of gauze being removed that a golf ball sized hole in my thigh.
I returned home and started an even longer recovery process that involved daily visits initially from a nurse to change the bandage. I'd like to mention at this point that this is a FREE SERVICE in Australia. This whole saga, 8 weeks in hospital, multiple surgeries, post op visits with physiotherapists, surgeons, nurses, gauze, drugs, and more left me out of pocket a sum so small it barely rates a mention.
If the MRSA didn't kill me, the cost of fighting it would have in countries without our level of health care and I'm grateful to be born where I was for that reason alone.
The inaugural Gravel Camp was still on the horizon, with people paid up and ready to rip - then I discovered I had a bi-lateral (two) inguinal hernia's. The risk of having either burst and requiring surgery, under the cloud of old mate MRSA still in the system was the final straw. We postponed the event and began a long road to resolving the infectious disease which kept rearing it's ugly head. Multiple decolonisation to get rid of this invisible enemy which had also affected my wife and daughter, though not to the same degree.
Half a year later, after successive follow ups with Infectious Diseases I was given a clean bill of health and could go back to playing in the dirt - but not before I had that pesky double hernia addressed. That came and went and before I knew it I was back to my old self, climbing trees, lifting heavy stuff, jumping on trampolines.
For the last few years, Dave and I have ridden to the High Country in late spring - to be joined later by our families. The first year was the Dargo High Plains Debacle, then the Lake Cobbler Hike-A-Bike. We'd missed the following year due to my health and this years happen to coincide with a significant birthday of Dave's so I thought we could stretch it to 3 days, mix up the accomodation with the first night a 2 star deal, then one hundred thousand million the following.
A lengthy trail of emails discussed route options, ride details and re-supply points before it was locked* in.
I love rolling out from my doorstep. Primarily because it makes it harder to forget critical items like bike shoes and helmet.
Dave got the train to the end of the Mernda Line - to mine the night previous to simplify the logistics.
I neglected to take much interest in the forecast (mid 30s) which would explain my dehydration at daze end.
The route selected took in as many bike paths and B roads as possible before the G roads that took us all the way to Alex(andra).
UV was in full force from this point on and I made the rookie mistake of not drinking enough to this point and carrying enough. I paid for it in full at the pub in Alex and needed a nanna nap before dinner. Just one of those things that even (allegedly) experienced riders can still forget to do.
Boundary Rd, Limestone.
Zero cars. Great views. Steady gradient. Rough enough to keep you focused.
Eventually we made it to Alex where we chilled our chamois' in the waters of the mighty Goulburn.
Continental Breakfast at the Corner Hotel was very lack lustre, so across the road for baked goods and proper coffee.
Picked up some Ammo and hit the road.
Rolled out into near perfect weather and Maintongoon Rd / Sonn Berg Drive might be my new two favourite stretchs on the way to Bonnie Doon.
Yes. That's the family holiday house from The Castle. Enjoy the serenity for yourself.
From Bonnie Doon it was on to the Great Victorian Rail Trail, away from the cars for the next 20 odd kms to Mansfield where we grabbed lunch at The Merchant and then to Foodworks for extra fruit and drinks for the final push to Cheshunt.
This shot of the topo map from taken at the Mansfield Information Center. We'd been warned that McDonalds Spur track was no joke - and it lived up to expectations. It may be the single steepest method of getting down a hill I've seen in all my years. The hard pack red clay had a thin film of dust covering it making for a very treacherous time in the drops and tops.
If there was a whiff of moisture in the air we would have slid down for sure - walking or riding. Photos fail to capture the gradient so I didn't bother.
After a close brush with a pair of red deer we rolled the super sweet strada bianche of Christophers Track to Cheshunt where it was PIZZA NIGHT at The Oven. $20 gets you your fill of homemade, homegrown and homeground pizza's from the Austrian couple.
It was still another 12/13 km to Paradise Falls where we planned on sleeping so with full stomach's we begrudgingly pushed off but not without some sweets for tomorrow's breakfast.
We knew the falls would almost certainly be dry, but a spectacular amphitheatre all the same. The final distance turned out to be the lumpiest of the day and dusk rapidly set in as we hiked into the falls.
There was a constant trickle but not the gushing spread that would have been the following week.
Waking to the sound of falling water, the dawn chorus. Can't beat it. I'd got a reasonable sleep, even if I felt a little off camber due to the slope of the dusty mattress.
Breakfast was served and as a point on minimalism I carried Supreme's INSTANT coffee, and used an open fire to boil water as opposed to the extra weight of the cooker and fuel. Baked Beans make a great start too and come self-packaged ready for the warm coals.
We'd stashed our bikes mid trail as it's a rather steep, rocky and precarious short walk in and were greeted with this vista.
By the numbers, and the route we took.
My initial plan was to through in another crazy ascent on dirt over to Harrietville rather than the long way around on the blacktop to Bright but Dave wisely suggested that perhaps getting in at as reasonable hour would be favourable - besides, we would have missed out on savouring the delicious scoops from the Bright (& Beechworth) Ice Creamery. All made on site, ingredients sourced locally, including my favourite flavour - Blackberry from Gunnado Berries in Smoko.
Before we get carried away, we had a major obstacle to overcome. Goldie Spur Track (Google Maps shop it as Goldie's Spur Track).
It's the back way around Mt Buffalo. I'd done it on a MTB and knew that it was very steep, very rough. Adding to the challenge was the heavy loads on our bikes, in our legs, and the scorching heat of midday. The precursors of Rose River rd, and the SEC track are absolutely stunning gravel roads.
The surface on SEC was better than Springvale rd.
Goldie Spur is the powerline cutting - the false top can be seen in the distance.
Three scoops later... and Dave took one for the road we made the last effort to Harrietville, again using the bike trail as much as we could.
Greeted by friends and family it was great to have made it all the way - without a single mechanical or mental catastrophe.
Can't wait until the next one.
Happy Birthday, Dave!
Kyle's Santa Cruz TALLBOY. There is no excuse for going slow up AND definitely down trail on this dual suspension 'XC' shredder.