After discovering the joys of cycling in 2002 I took a group of fellow riders to China in 2006. Since then we have gone on to complete something like 42 other overseas cycling and trekking adventures which have taken us all over the planet.
  • Day120

    Light at the End of the Tunnel

    June 29 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    As I rode up the final hill to my drive yesterday, the bike computer said that I had ridden 21.9 km. It certainly was not a marathon ride, but I was very excited nonetheless. After all, it was a lot longer than the 5.5 km I had achieved in my first comeback ride a couple of days ago.

    After that first ride I had been a little apprehensive that the level of pain in my back might have grown worse. To my relief it actually seemed to get better. I had already read that long walks are good for back problems as the release of endorphins act like a natural anaesthetic. If long walks have a positive outcome, then I figured that modest bike rides could not do any harm after all.

    Our eldest son had also joined us for the ride, so that added an extra layer of enjoyment to the afternoon. At the end of the day I was able to head to bed, without feeling the terrible sciatic pain that presages a restless night's sleep. It turned out to be the best night that I have had for at least the past week.

    When today dawned cold and clear I decided that I would get back on the bike for another ride. After a delightful ride (with even a few more hills thrown in), the computer told me that we had ridden 25.9 km. I am beginning to feel that I am getting close to being able to rejoin regular rides.

    The irony is that Victoria has just experienced a huge surge in COVID infections., so much so that it has become the epicentre for contagion in Australia. We have just heard that no less than 75 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours. This is clearly the worst result since the very height of the pandemic. It is now looking more and more likely that we will be returning to some form of lockdown. That means that any resumption in regular Ghostrider rides will be quite some time off. The toilet rolls have already disappeared from all the supermarkets once more !
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  • Day119

    Good News Follows an Outing

    June 28 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 5 °C

    Over the past couple of days we have been informed by the media that we are apparently living in the middle of one of Victoria's "hot spots". Unfortunately they are not referring to a real estate hotspot, but an epicentre of COVID19 contagion. In fact, if we believed half of what is being said, we should probably not leave the house unless we are covered from head to foot in a hazmat suit with its own breathing supply.

    "Anyone who has the misfortune to live in one of these infested areas should be tested immediately", we are warned.

    Of course these repeated messages are obviously going to have deep impact on a person's mind - especially when you are married to a female who insists on covering herself in hand sanitizer every time she even looks out the window.

    "I think we need to get tested", she informs me. "I think I might have had a sore throat once", she adds, "so I am pretty sure I must be infected".

    Over the past 47 years I have learnt that it is futile to argue against that type of logic.

    "When would you like to go?", I obediently asked.

    She replied that she had already done her homework and she had discovered a clinic in Berwick where we could be tested without any waiting period and (best of all) it would be FREE OF CHARGE. The second part certainly interested me, so she made the call and booked us in for 1.30 pm Friday afternoon.

    I tried not to think about all the horrible stories I had heard about how dreadful the test was. I had visions of enduring something akin to a frontal labotomy, with a huge probe being forced so far into my nose that it would scrape the base of my ageing brain. It was definitely nightmare material.

    At the appointed time, we drove the short distance to Berwick and found the clinic. There was no huge line of waiting cars. I was not sure if that was good news or bad news. We entered the car park and were met by a young lady covered from head to foot in protective gear. I looked at her hand to see if she was carrying the huge corkscrew that she was going to drill into my head with. All she had was a clipboard.

    She introduced herself as a doctor, checked our names and told us to wait. I took a few deep breaths while she disappeared back into the clinic. A short time later she emerged with a couple of plastic bags, each containg an instrument looking like an oversized cotton bud. Perhaps I could ask her to clean out my ears while she was at it ?

    I was asked to open my mouth while the cotton bud was tapped around somewhere near my tonsils. Although I gagged once or twice, it was nowhere near as bad as I had been expecting. The same probe was then inserted into my nose, but fortunately it went nowhere near my brain and the process was over almost before it began. Maggie and I looked at each other as if to say "Was that it?"

    We were then told that we would get our results within three days and to keep away from outside contact in that time. We drove home with a great sense of having done our duty. In all seriousness, we had no fear that we were infected, but we did want to play our part in getting the pandemic under control as quickly as possible. If a few minutes of minor discomfort is all it takes, it is a very small price to pay.

    The tests were conducted on Friday afternoon and by Saturday evening we both received SMS messages informing us that there had been no traces of COVID19 in eiether of our test samples. At least it was now official.

    In case anyone reading this footprint is interested in knowing where the test was carried out, it was done at the O'Shea Medical Centre in Berwick. We simply rang the clinic to make an appointment and there was NO waiting at all.
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  • Day117

    Small Steps

    June 26 in Australia ⋅ 🌧 10 °C

    Sometimes you do not appreciate how much you enjoy doing something until you can no longer do it. Since the onset of my back problem, just over two weeks ago, I have not been able to even consider getting back on my bike. In many ways that is the cruelest impact that the injury has had.

    I have already had to cancel two small group rides that I had been greatly looking forward to taking part in. Every time I look out the window and see a beautiful blue sky beckoning to me, I think how much I would have enjoyed getting out on the bike. It might be a simple pleasure, but I have learned afresh just how much it means to me. Over the past eighteen years cycling has become a major theme in my life, and one that I am not ready to let go of without a struggle.

    The good news is that, since my first visit to the osteopath two days ago, I feel that I have started to regain some more mobility in my back. It might be a case of two steps forward and one step backwards, but for the first time I have started to feel empowered enough to risk getting back on two wheels. So that's what I did !

    This morning I donned my helmet and gloves and got back on the bike. I had no idea of how comfortable or painful it might have been, but I knew that there was only one way to find out. To my intense relief it was not as bad as I feared. Nowhere near as bad in fact.

    My first intention had been to just ride around the block to see if I could achieve it without falling off. When I managed to reach that milestone, I did not want to get off. I decided to go a little further.

    Five and a half kilometres later, I rode back into my driveway. You have no idea of how good it felt. I had experienced no stabbing lower back pain and no pain rotating the legs either. It was a great start, but I did not want to push things too far. If I experience no unpleasant after effects, I will try a longer ride next time. After all the bad news in the media over the last few days, it was just the thing I needed to lighten my mood.
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  • Day114

    It was the Shortest and Darkest of Days

    June 23 in Australia ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

    The past week has not been an easy one. That is the main reason why it has been a week since I posted my last footprint. So what has actually been happening ?

    This time of the year is always a rather depressing time, even without the added anxiety due to the COVID19 pandemic. The effect of steadily decreasing hours of sunlight is to increase feelings of meloncholy. In far northern countries it is an established fact that this time of the year brings widespread depression and an increased number of suicides.

    It is therefore a very significant date when the winter solstice is finally reached. This is a cause for celebration as it marks the point in time where the days finally start to grow in length. Although we do not suffer as much as those who must endure the bitter Scandinavian winter, it is still a great feeling to know that we are finally heading back towards those longer and warmer days of springtime. What has been worth noting is that, over the past few days, there has been a surge in new COVID 19 infections. Victoria has now become the epicentre for new cases in Australia.

    This has happened at a time when we were finally beginning to feel that the worst was behind us. Now we have a reminder that we cannot relax at any time soon. Family gatherings have already been slashed from 20 people to 5 people. Outdoor gatherings have also been cut back to only 10 people. This will mean that the special ride we had planned for Sat July 4th will no longer be able to proceed. We will have to wait longer before we can celebrate our liberation.

    I am also sorry to say that my back has not improved. After suffering for a week, I finally went to see my doctor. She convinced me to see a physiotherapist. It turned out to be a painful exercise. After my first visit I left with a pain that was many times worse than I went in with. In fact it was so painful that I spent the rest of the day (and the next) imobile. This was not the result that I had been looking for. Not only can I not ride the bike, but I can now barely hobble from room to room.

    So what happens now ? Tomorrow I have an appointment with an osteopath. I have cancelled my next appointment with the physiotherapist (and I doubt I will ever be going back). I have never been to an osteopath before, so I already have a degree of skepticism as to how it will go. I will let you know the outcome in my next footprint.
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  • Day107

    Don't It Always Seem to Be

    June 16 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    In 1970 I was a gangly 19 year old second year Physics student at Monash University. In that same year Joni Mitchell reminded us that "we don't know what we got till it's gone", Fifty years have now been and gone, but now I know what she was talking about.

    When our backs are functioning normally, it is so easy to take it for granted. Simple tasks like putting on your shoes and socks we can do effortlessly. It is only when you have a problem with your back that you are reminded that absolutely nothing is easy any more.

    Three days ago I awoke with a pain in my lower back. I have learned that, as you grow older, it is not uncommon to wake with a pain somewhere in your body that wasn't there when you went to bed. I must be getting more and more accident prone in my dreams as these sort of random nocturnal injuries are becoming more common.

    I did not worry too much at first, however when the pain persisted for the entire day, my anxiety level went up steadily. Simply getting up out of my favourite chair became a painful and laborious exercise. I hoped that, since it had appeared out of nowhere while I slept, that it could disappear in the same way. It didn't.

    The next morning the pain was still there. I spent much of the day sitting with a hot water bottle propped behind my lower back. We are now up to day 3 and the pain is still quite intense. About the only activity that I can do without stabbing pain, is walking. I am learning alternate procedures of getting in and out of the car. We had been planning to do a bike ride with some friends tomorrow, but that is now out of the question.

    So what happens now ? Honestly I don't know.
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  • Day102

    A Sneaky & Unprovoked Theft

    June 11 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

    Maggie and I usually try to avoid trips to the inner suburbs of Melbourne. The combined effects of heavy traffic, lack of parking spaces and too many people, are enough to keep me heading in the opposite direction. Over the past decade we have spent a lot more time in Paris, than in the Melbourne CBD. Sometimes, however, there is just no avoiding such a venture. Today was such an occasion.

    Maggie's bike was overdue for its first service, so we decided to take advantage of the sunny weather, load the bike and head into the city. After dropping the bike at the bike shop, we had a couple of hours to fill in, before it would be ready to collect it again. Since we were ready for a coffee fix (and Maggie needed a toilet), we drove to the St Kilda Baths and visited their coffee shop.

    A few minutes later, Maggie's bladder was happy and we both had a coffee and a cake to enjoy by the pier. We sat down and looked out over the bay. It was absolutely still and I had to admit that it was beautiful. Out came our cakes and we started eating. It was here that things took a terrible turn for the worse.

    Out of nowhere came a flapping of white wings, a large seagull swooped over Maggie's left shoulder, neatly collected her cake and disappeared into the distance. And that was that. She was rightly miffed.

    "I was enjoying that", she sadly stated.

    "Well the seagull is enjoying it now", I added.

    You might think that such events would be very rare. The problem is that Maggie has a history of such attacks. Three years ago we were sitting by the waterside in Dinard, France. Across the water, we could see the famous stone walls of the citadel of St Malo. It was an idyllic place to enjoy our lunches.

    On that occasion, we had both bought a baguette and Maggie had just started on her raspberry tart. Anyone who has traveled with us would know that Maggie absolutely adores those cakes, and she was obviously looking forward to eating it and savouring every single mouthful. It wasn't to be.

    She had barely started when a huge seagull appeared from the sky and snatched the entire treat. If that wasn't bad enough, it also simultaneously emptied the entire contents of its bowels all over her. She was left without her tart, but liberally covered in fresh, warm bird droppings. It certainly put a rapid dampener on the mood.

    The next twenty minutes were spent wiping off the poo and remembering the tart that might have been. It was a day that will go down in the annals of infamy, but today indicated that history really does repeat itself.

    Fortunately, the rest of the day went in a more positive fashion. After picking up the bike, we returned via Bentleigh East. This was the area that I grew up in the 1950s, and I am always interested to see how it has changed over the decades.

    Ever since I lived in Harper Ave, there had been a run down milk bar on the corner of Tucker and Paterson Rds. For decades this decrepit looking shop somehow managed to stay open, even though the peeling paint and grubby windows made it look like a place to stay well away from. We were surprised (and pleased) to see that it has now been completely remodeled into a lovely cafe. It was a perfect place to enjoy a late lunch.
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  • Day101

    I've Done It

    June 10 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    When I knew that I was going to be heading into lockdown for an indefinite period of time I looked for a new hobby to keep me occupied and challenged during those long idle hours. Since I had always liked puzzles and ciphers, I decided that I might turn my mind and fingers towards lock picking.

    I started out the same way that anyone learns any new skill nowadays - by watching videos on YouTube. These gave me some ideas of where to start. All I needed next were some suitable tools and practice locks. I was able to secure these items via Amazon (thus further adding to Jeff Bezos' massive fortune).

    The next stage was to sit down with locks and picks and see just how the unlocking process works. I have to admit that the first time I opened a padlock, it really did give me quite a buzz. Then I opened it again, and again, and again. I looked for other locks of different shapes and sizes. No lock was safe while I was around. In each case the thrill was the same when it yielded for the first time.

    As part of my progression, I ordered a set of "progressive locks" from Canada. These are a structured set of numbered locks, each one a little (or a lot) harder than the previous one. They say that, by the time you can open the final one, you can regard yourself as a moderately good lock picker.

    A couple of days ago I succeeded in picking the full set and I have the photo to prove it. If you look closely you will see that it would be impossible to put the locks in that state without picking them. In case you are confused by that, the key would still be stuck in the core if I had unlocked them using the key. The fact that the keyway is clear shows that they were all picked.

    Just in case you want to know something of the technical side of things, I can tell you that they were tensioned using the top of keyway method, a short hook was used and they were single pin picked.
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  • Day99

    Back in the Madding Crowds

    June 8 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 6 °C

    Today I was able to join a few others from the Ghostriders, for our first small group ride in several months. We met at Mullum Mullum Reserve to ride the trail to Diamond Creek. This was a ride we had done many times in the past, so we thought we knew the route pretty well.

    Twelve riders set off from the start in near freezing conditions. In spite of my numerous layers of clothes, I was still still cold. I was so glad that I had brought along my long fingered gloves, or otherwise I am sure that a few digits would have been turned to ice.

    There was a much more significant challenge than the low temperatures. It soon became apparent that every man, woman, child and dog in the district had also chosen to share the trail with us. Every corner we turned, we were confronted with crowds of walkers. I am not just talking of ones or twos, I am talking of large groups of people.

    If the walkers were not challenge enough, the cyclists were even worse. One of the unexpected side effects of this pandemic has been a huge rush to the local bike shops. It seems that everyone has decided that they needed to buy a bike, even if they had no idea of how to actually ride the thing.

    Maggie and I had already noticed this phenomenon on every bike paths we had ridden in the past couple of months. Whether it was at Inverloch, Pakenham or DIamond Creek, they were all jammed with hordes of people relishing their new-found liberty. The famous "Thousand Steps" walk at Ferntree Gully has had to be closed most days by the police, simply because of the enormous throng of people trying to cram onto the narrow walkway.

    I could not but wonder how long this new love of walking and cycling will last. Now that we are heading into another Melbourne winter, will all these people still continue their newfound passions, or will they banish their new bikes to the garage and go back to spending all day on social media again ?

    Even if it is only a temporary manifestation, it certainly has been interesting to see. As we approached Diamond Creek the crowds became even thicker. At one point there were hundreds of people gathered at the local netball courts. It looked like it was some sort of organised event to help teach kids how to ride their bikes. Children of all ages were happily wobbling all about, looking for a suitable place to stage their first crash. By some miracle, we managed to avoid riding into any of them, and we all arrived safely at Diamond Creek.

    By this time the sun was higher in the sky and the temperature had soared to around 8 or 9 C. It was positively balmy in the sunshine. We ate our socially separated lunches while trying to solve some of the world's problems, before remounting our bikes for the return ride.

    The crowds were just as thick on the way back, so we had to continually concentrate hard to avoid coming to an untimely catastrophe. We had planned to stop for a second coffee stop at Petty's Orchard, but discovered that the cafe was closed.

    Apart from the crowds on every bike path, Maggie and I have noticed another manifestation of life in lockdown. In our previous lives, we used to go to bed around 11 pm each night. Since the start of the isolation period, we find that we are now ready for bed at any time from about 8 pm onwards. It is hard to watch nighttime TV anymore. Our body clocks seem to have become readjusted to a different sleep/wake cycle. I would be very interested to hear if others have noticed the same change.

    Another, not so welcome, change that has taken place is that our weekly timetables have started to fill again. During the height of the lockdown period, we had no regular commitments. Every day was much the same. Now we have returned home we are already finding that the days are refilling with appointments and schedules again. I guess that is an inevitable result of life returning to normal, but I have to admit that I am already starting to miss those long unstructured days we shared by the beach.
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  • Day98

    His First Orbit Around the Sun

    June 7 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    One year ago I was sitting in a car on my way to Melbourne Airport. In a couple of hours I was due to depart for Warsaw for the start of our 2019 Baltics Cycling Adventure. As a recent adopter to Whatsapp, I was a little surprised when my phone started making an unfamiliar noise. It turned out to be an incoming video call from my son and daughter in law.

    The birth of their first child was due in about two weeks time, so I was resigned to the fact that I would be on the other side of the planet when the little one actually arrived. Of course babies sometimes run to the own timetable and this one had decided that it couldn't wait to say hi to his parents and grandparents.

    When I took the video call the new baby had only just arrived. Mum and dad were still a little in shock, but wanted to let me know the exciting news, before I headed off. It was a tremendous way to start a new adventure, but I was a little sad that I would have to wait a few weeks before I would see the little guy face to face.

    Officially his name is Josiah, but very quickly he picked up the knickname "Jossi", and I think that is what he will always be called. Over the past year we have seen him develop into a beautiful baby, full of smiles and curiosity. He has brought joy to our entire extended family and it has been amazing to see the way that the new parents absolutely adore him.

    Yesterday Jossi celebrated his first birthday and we were so glad that we were able to share it with him. In spite of worldwide pandemics, race riots and everything else, nothing is more beautiful than to witness a new little person developing and learning.
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  • Day95

    On the Move

    June 4 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    About 40 minutes East of Pakenham, on the Princes Highway, is the small town of Yarragon. The short drive from Pakenham to Yarragon takes in some of the delightful rolling green hills that Gippsland is famous for. It is one of our favourite drives, and the choice of lovely little eateries at Yarragon makes the trip very worthwhile.

    Yesterday morning we were both keen to get out of the house and head off somewhere in the car. Since Yarragon seemed like a good idea, that is where we headed. It soon became obvious that many others are keen to get out and about again. The highway was comfortably full of other vehicles. mostly heading away from Melbourne.

    We arrived at Yarragon around noon and brought some take away lunch to eat. After lunch I had a multiway video chat organised with some of the American ladies who were on the barge with us last year in Provence. So much has happened since that trip, that it now seems a lifetime ago, but it has been good to renew the memories we shared together.

    Considering that I was in the Victorian countryside, the video chat worked very well. They were able to tell me that the situation in Portland was similar to what was happening in so many other towns, all over the USA. They are now subject to an evening curfew and there had been widespread rioting and looting in the city. They all agreed that Australia looked like a much better place to be at the current time. All things considered, I would certainly prefer our current prime minister to the idiotic clown that the USA has.

    This morning dawned fine and clear. That gave us all the motivation we needed to get out on the bikes again. We continued our exploration of a number of new bike paths between Pakenham and Berwick. It seems that every time we start, we discover more and more freshly laid concrete. We even discovered a new underpass under the Monash Freeway that we did not know existed.

    We stopped at the Main Cafe in Berwick for lunch and enjoyed a lovely time in the winter sunshine. Although things are still not the way they were, they are moving in the right direction and we are beginning to see brighter times ahead.

    On the return ride we followed some different paths, arriving home soon after 1.30 pm. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days. The stock market has also made some significant gains over the past few days, so that is finally making retirees breathe a little easier.
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