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The prospect of two days on the Southern Rail Trail sounded good.  I had ridden part of it in 2007 on the Great Victorian Bike Ride. I remembered a smooth packed dirt surface and trees lining much of the path.  An occasional break in the shrubbery offered views of pastures covered with sheep or a glimpse of rugged Wilson’s Promontory, the popular national park at the southern tip of Gippsland.

Our home base would be a motel in the small town of Meeniyan.  The main question mark for the Easter weekend was the weather.  Easter arrives  in the fall here in the southern hemisphere, and the weather is highly changeable.  It can go from summer to winter overnight.  There were showers predicted, so we packed rain jackets and fleeces.

The morning of our first day’s ride, my wife stepped outside and failed to see the edge between two concrete pads functioning as steps into our room.  She tried to cushion the fall with her arm.   Aside from some bruises and cuts, she did not seem to suffer from any lasting pain.  After breakfast we got the tandem out and started riding the path with the rest of our group.

The weather gods cooperated, and our 65 km (40 mile) ride to the town of Foster and back was tiring but uneventful.   We enjoyed the chance to catch up a bit with some riding friends we hadn’t seen in a long time.  The town of Foster was lively. There was a huge outdoor market going on in the sporting grounds where I had camped during the Great Vic ride.  Our odd recumbent bikes barely drew a second look.   We had a nice, leisurely lunch in the park, and returned to Meeniyan.  The climb toward Hoddle Summit seemed longer on the way back than it had earlier, the gates at each road crossing more numerous.  I was weary by the time we wheeled into the parking lot of the motel.

Dinner at the pub next to the motel offered such specialties as Outback Parmigiana (with cheese, bacon and gravy) and spatchcock (fried and flattened young chicken).  The food came quickly and filled us up.  We had nearly finished when I looked up and saw that the color had gone from my wife’s face.  She was getting sharp pains in the wrist of her left arm.  She had broken that same wrist two years earlier.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the knife and fork that triggered the pain.   By the time we got back to the room she was in shock.

In a Christian country like this one, Easter Sunday evening is not the very best time to head out in search of medical care.  We had ridden our bikes past a clinic in Foster, but Lorraine, our innkeeper, suggested the hospital in Leongatha.  I drove as fast as I could, but it was dark and there was fog hiding in the dips of the hilly road.

The hospital was right where Lorraine had said it was, but despite a scattering of parked cars, it looked dead to the world. There seemed to be no lighted area inside, and there was no sign of an emergency entrance.  I circled the parking lot, then parked and went on foot down a road designated ambulances only.  It threaded through a complex of buildings, none of which showed any sign of life.  I rang a buzzer at one building.  Nothing. I returned to the lot, got in the car and drove out in search of a petrol (gas) station.

The lady behind the counter was wary.  We had strange accents, after all, and we were asking for information that was not in her line of work at all.  I may have appeared a little anxious.  My wife was in pain and I did not relish the prospect of driving two hours back to Melbourne to find a hospital, then returning for our stuff.  Assured that the local hospital was open, we drove back.  Same action, same result.  Why did I expect it to be different?  There was no sign of anyone anywhere.  It was frustrating and I was losing my patience.

In the end, I asked our less-than-helpful gas station lady to call an ambulance.  It was the only way I could see to get the medical castle to let down the drawbridge.  We were less than five minutes from the hospital, so it showed up in no time.  The paramedics were very friendly.  They gave my wife a mild anti-anxiety drug in an asthma breathing device and popped her in a wheelchair.  I followed the ambulance back to the hospital.

We went to the main entrance.  There was still no sign of an emergency entry, but there was a button I hadn’t spotted earlier and a special keypad for the ambulance guys.   They wheeled her in and I followed.  A nurse came in right away and asked her questions.  One of the paramedics kept us company while we waited for the doctor.  He had participated in the creation of the bike path so he was keen to hear the good things we had to say about it.

The doctor came at last.  She was an older woman, friendly and nice.  She would wrap it up and put it in a sling but the X ray technician was not on call and would probably not be in the next day.  She could hand out pain killers.  That was the key thing.  My wife slept better than she had in years.

Next morning we packed up and drove back to Melbourne.  We hit the Royal Melbourne emergency ward in the early afternoon.  They had a busy waiting room.  On holiday weekends everyone drinks too much and gets careless.  The X ray guy was available, but there was a two hour wait for the doctor, a very young woman who seemed like she could still be in medical school.  There was no discernible fracture on the X ray, but she slapped a cast on anyway.

Scaphoid bones in the wrist are very small and sometimes breaks don’t show up for a week or more.  We’re still waiting to confirm the fracture, but our family doctor has no doubt it is broken.  In the meantime, I’m keeping the codeine just in case.  It is going in my medical kit.  I may need it for the next adventure, or I might need it for walking out the front door. You just never can tell.

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Despite the taboo against bringing foreign pests into Australia, I managed to get a nasty one past the sniffer dog.  It was a cold virus, and it seemed determined to hang on as long as possible.  I was into my second round of antibiotics when it struck me that this was never going away.  I simply had to get out of the house and stop letting it have the upper hand.

For a couple of weeks, I had been considering an invitation to join a group of cyclists intent on doing the High Country and Myrtleford Trails. Tempted but not committed, I booked a couple of cottages.  I would wait until the last minute to see if I would be well enough to do it.  My wife was not encouraging.   VICHPV rides are not  fast, but they can be long and taxing.  I finally decided that if my body wasn’t ready,  I could always hang out in the caravan park and read a book, swim or something.   At least it would be a change of scene.

The idea was to ride most of the length of two rail trails, both located in Victoria pretty much due north of Melbourne.  The High Country Trail begins 300 kms from here in the town of Wondonga (on the border with New South Wales along  the Murray River).  Its sister town across the river in NSW is called Albury.  The trail traverses farmland and forest and skirts a man-made lake called Lake Hume.  It is supposed to end at the town of Old Tallangatta, about 55 kms away.  There is the minor issue of a missing bridge.

Robert W. has been organizing rides for VICHPV (Victoria human powered vehicles– recumbent two wheelers and trikes) for awhile now.  He has recently taken on organizing some over 50’s rides for Bicycle Victoria.  For the week away, he extended an open invitation to both groups.  The Labour Day holiday provided for a long weekend, at least.

A group of seven assembled in Wodonga in the caravan park at the civilized hour of 10 AM, then rode several kilometers across town.  It would prove to be a long day.  A short section through the woods was lovely, but later, the trail deteriorated into something approaching a landslide.  We saw no one else on the trail and it was not hard to figure out why.  It was barely suitable for mountain bikes.  On a 60 km ride in the hot sun, riding on scree is not fun.  We came back along the highway.

Fortunately for the group, there was a good place to dine within walking distance of the Caravan Park.  With a little imagination, you can fool yourself into believing that you have worked off enough calories to eat just about anything.  The wine and beer nudged our tongues loose, and our evenings at the restaurant got longer and longer.

The next day another couple of riders joined the group.  This time we drove to our starting point, just the other side of Sandy Creek.  Our destination was Old Talangatta, a town that had been partially dismantled and moved in order to flood the valley. We biked across a bridge that is was still in place and there was water below in the Mitta River, but with the drought, Lake Hume itself is receding, almost disappearing.

A highlight stop on the return to Wodonga was a visit to Bonegilla Migrant Camp, Block 19, a heritage site.  Over 300,000 European migrants passed through this place between 1947 and 1971.  Conditions were pretty primitive, according to John, a Dutch-born volunteer guide who told us about his family’s stay in the camp.  Fortunately, his father knew how to milk cows, so the family was able to move after only six weeks in the camp.  They had mutton for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No heat in winter and no fans in summer.  In the sixties, some Italian migrants got so frustrated they tried to burn down the place.

On Labour Day, the over 50’s couples returned to Melbourne to work.  The rest of us drove to Myrtleford, our home base for the Murray to the Mountains trail.  It is the best known (and maintained) rail trail in Victoria.  Most of its surface is covered with bitumen (pavement) and it rolls through some lovely country.  Michael had already suffered so many flats on the other trail that he had replaced both tires with Armadillos, tires that looked virtually impervious to punctures.

In the morning, Roger and I discovered flats before we started riding.  After fixing mine, I discovered that I had bunged up my derailleur.  This required a trip to the bike shop.  Fortunately, it was across the street from a very good, Italian coffee shop.  Almost as soon as got underway again, I picked up a thorn in the same tire.  I didn’t want to change it, so I nursed the slow leak by pumping up my rear tire every twenty minutes or so.  Right before our destination, Michael got two more punctures in his Armadillos.  It was another long day.  The evening made up for it with socializing, beer, wine and food.

During the Warm many Italian prisoners of war were off-loaded in Mytleford as there was a P.O.W. camp nearby.  They were used as forced farm labour.  After the war, some came back into the area as immigrants and brought their families.   They started farms, wineries and other businesses in the area.

Our last day was dedicated to a short,gradual uphill ride from Everton to Beechworth.  I had done this before with my wife on the tandem.  Despite the fact that it is all uphill (in one direction, anyway) it is one of my favourite rides.  Much of it through woods. It was spitting rain when we got to the top.  Curiously, we were met by one of our regular trike riders, who had come from Melbourne the previous night and ridden the trail before we were done eating breakfast.

While we lunched at Beechworth’s famous bakery, the rain began in earnest.  Our lightweight rain gear was not going to do it in this downpour.  Roger and I headed for an “op shop” (a second-hand charity clothing place) in search of rain gear.  The owner took one look at me and said:  “Dearie, I haven’t seen this kinda rain in five months.”  Luckily, I found a plastic poncho at a chemist (drug store.)

It was a short, wet ride downhill to Everton and a long drive home.  And a good week.  Thanks to Robert and Jana, Roger and Michael, the rest of my fellow cyclists,  two bike shops and my trusty recumbent.  The cold is gone.  Miracolo. My recipe for getting rid of a bad bug and bronchitis– take a week off, go cycling under a blistering sun between the hours of 10 and 4 PM.  Use plenty of sunscreen.  Eat large amounts of fried food for dinner and wash it down with lots of beer, wine, or both.  Let me know how it goes.

Check back in a week or so for a post about the trains that led to these trails.


My regular readers (and I like to think of you as regular readers) may be feeling deprived of new material.  The problem is that I have been too busy doing things to actually sit down and write.  I fantasize about a contingent of readers waiting for the new post to land on the electronic version of a doorstep. When I don’t generate some  thick word work within a respectable interval, I feel anxious, guilty even.  For no good reason I can think of.  I was being virtuous, in fact, out getting healthy, cycling.

A group of us from Melbourne drove North, trying out two rail-trails.  More about that later.  Upon my return, I had a day to do laundry, placate my wife for all the household things left undone, then I took the tram down to St Kilda.  I had signed up for a writing workshop in an old mansion that had been donated to the city.  The weather and the house were  dark and gloomy, but the workshop was fascinating.  It was the first one I’ve done here.

The subject was–  The Journeying Self:  Travel and Identity.   If you know anything about my background, the attraction to this particular material should be evident.  I am a nomad.  I have been wrestling with it as a person and as a writer since I was twelve years old.  Part of a poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez captures it very well.

I am like a distracted child/Whom they drag by the hand/Through the fiesta of the world/My eyes cling sadly, to things… /And what misery when they tear me away from them!

Our teacher was a Malaysian writer by the name of Beth Yahp.  Despite her jet lag (she was just off the plane from her homeland) she took charge of the dozen of us who had chosen to join her and eased the magic carpet off the floor.  We landed for tea and coffee, for lunch and occasionally for intense workouts with the pen and paper.  Otherwise, we were flying.

We were on a carpet woven of words and ideas, propelled by readings and provocative questions.  Some were unanswerable; others generated so many answers that they soon became meaningless.  We were asked to look at the three dimensional world around us and fasten it to paper with words.  Nail it down by engaging the senses, the brain, or disengaging the brain so that the the hand can just write.

Sunday morning we became mute ethnographers, exploring the neighborhood and bringing it back, packed up inside as sights, sounds, noises, snatches of conversation, smells, tastes and touch.  We unpacked it all on paper, then listened to each other in amazement.  We learned to give our neighbours the benefit of the doubt, to offer criticism that would help, not hinder the fragile work in progress.  We learned to read aloud without apology.

We burrowed in, finally forcing ourselves to bring up something emotional, something that touched us, something true.   Before we went home after the long, exhausting and exhilarating weekend, we made an attempt to keep in touch.  That effort may bring some of those who were in the workshop to this blog.   I have tried to think of how a new reader might make sense of this blog.  Going backwards, I suppose, sampling posts based on categories or tags.  I got those two things mixed up in the beginning and have yet to go back and make corrections.   So, I’ll make it simple. Give my new explorers a few pointers that may help deciphering these scribblings.

I began this blog when we arrived in Melbourne in January, 2007.  My wife is a University professor and it was a job offer at the University of Melbourne that brought us here.   We moved here from Florida, but we have an old house in Nova Scotia, Canada.  We return there as often as possible.  In October of last year, we had an opportunity to go to Turin, Italy, for three and a half months.  It was a short-term teaching gig at a new University.  We have only recently returned.  We went to the house in Grand Pre, NS for Christmas with family in December.

My initial idea was to write about whatever I found strange in Australia, before it had worked itself into my psyche and become normal.  I like taking pictures, so I plugged them in as well.  Many more pics are available if you click on one.  It will take you to my Flickr account, red flier.  Lately, I’ve started thinking about trying to turn the good parts of this into the beginning of a book.   I would love to see a lot more of this fascinating country and write about it.  Getting an advance to do so would be absolutely fabulous.  Advances welcome.

Basta, as the Italians say.  Comments and suggestions are much appreciated.  Fire away!


The Spring racing season has begun.  An English horse called All the Good came galloping in ahead of the rest of the pack at the Caufield Cup on Saturday.  To say it was an upset is a bit of an understatement.  The odds were fifty to one.  The horse is owned by a company called Godolphin, based in the United Arab Emirates.  I’m sure the Sheik can use the money.

I am ashamed to say that I have yet to attend one of these horsey events, not even the Melbourne Cup, the race that “stops the nation.” I did make an effort to expand my horizons when we lived in Hong Kong, but that occasion was prompted by an invitation.  Still, I did the whole thing, getting the form and placing bets (on horses I liked the names of), promptly losing whatever winnings came my way.  I just couldn’t see the point.  Perhaps if I rode a horse, I might be more interested, but I doubt it.  I ride a bike and I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a cycling race unless the riders were all naked….or wearing burqas.

The summer cycling season has begun.  It was kicked off yesterday by the big event of the year– “Around the Bay in a Day.”  16,450 riders turned out.  I was not one of them.  I do have some good memories, like the sunrise over the Yarra, but I was very nervous among riders who were all attempting to go at different speeds.  Negotiating a safe space among cyclists, cars and ‘utes’ (pick up trucks) is quite demanding for those of us whose vision and reflexes are, shall we say, a little rusty.

Cyclists can be as boorish and unpleasant as motorists when they get obsessed with speed.  Last year, the day of the ride turned quite hot and the wind was in my face much of the way.  I was overdressed for the weather and glad to see the city come into view.  This year, the warm front broke early Sunday morning, so the temperature was cool.  Wind is another matter.  It seems like there is always wind.

Two members of our recumbent cycling group headed out before dawn to take on the challenge.  Last year I chose the wimpy 100 km option, from the town of Sorrento back into the city of Melbourne.  The full ride requires a ferry ride across the mouth of the bay from Portsea to Queenscliff.  It is 210 kms (130 miles).  Bike Victoria offers an optional detour of another forty kms for those riders who just can’t get enough time in the saddle.  That makes it a tidy 250 kms.

Each of my fellow recumbent riders took off well before five in the morning and headed in opposite directions around Port Philip Bay.  They are both strong riders, well able to keep up and even pass some of the hot, young lycra-clad cyclists who barrel down the coast road every Sunday morning.  Steve passed an entire peloton of riders wearing BMW T-shirts.  John R, who was worried about his knees, averaged 27 kms an hour (riding time) over the 250 km distance.  Not too shabby.

John had an early lunch while he waited for the ferry.  By this point, the chocolate icing on his dessert had melted, so he had a chocolate chicken sandwich. Nice touch, John.  I almost wish I’d been there.  The picture below is from a previous event.  John K, the guy in the middle, is far too sensible to do this kind of thing.

Steve on the left, John R on the right with their high-tech, home built recumbents.  John K in the middle with his one-of-a kind special.

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