The past couple of weeks have seen some significant growth in the ranks of the Ghost Riders. The good news is that not all of this new growth has been around our waistlines. Some of it has actually been in the form of new members. While some uninformed people might wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to ride with a bunch of old crocks like Crasher and Hooters, the fame of the Ghost Riders has grown to such an extent that we seem to have new applicants for membership almost every week.
This could point to an alarming deterioration in the mental health of our country but I prefer to think that it shows that there are a lot of people who want to spend a few hours each week working on both their bodies AND their minds. Last week we had the influx of new Johns, this week we were told to expect the arrival of another female Ghost Rider. In fact this latest recruit would be coming all the way from Hampton, so I was hoping that the regular riders would be on their best behaviour for the day.
One thing that looked certain to do the right thing was the weather – it was an ideal Autumn Day, with not a breath of wind, no rain and a temperature of about 20C. Why would anyone want to spend a day like this in their office ? Not me, that’s for sure. With old Hooters off with the fuzzy wuzzies up in New Guinea somewhere, there was even some possibility that we could complete the ride without being interrupted by pleas to “slow down” or “stop for drinks”. It is no wonder that I had such a healthy degree of anticipation as I loaded my bike and headed off for Mt Evelyn. One way or another, I was sure it would be a memorable ride.
At 12.45 pm as I pulled into the car park I could see that someone else had already arrived and was busy preparing their bike for a ride. I wasted no time in introducing myself. “Hi, I’m Dennis, the president of this riding club”, I said with a broad smile and my stomach held in tightly. Our new female recruit looked at me and replied “Yes I can see what a superb athlete you are”. This was a promising start. I told her that the other (trainee) riders would be arriving shortly.
Geraldine was obviously prepared for a VERY long ride because I noticed her attaching huge paniers to her bike. It looked like she was ready to undertake an expedition to Mt Everest, but I did not want to discourage her. “Are you sure you will able to ride the whole distance to Warburton and back?” I asked her. She informed me that she had ridden a bike a couple of times before and liked a challenge. I could not help but compare this attitude with that of Hooters, who has been riding this trail for OVER TWO YEARS, but has still not mustered the courage to ride the full distance. Here I was looking at a mere waif of a girl who had hardly ever seen a bike before and already she was ready to shatter John’s maximum distance record.
Within a few more minutes our peloton began to form – Legs Warren and John Dawson (by now renamed to “Little John”) and old Crasher Lewis had arrived. I asked Little John if he was sure he would be able to ride the whole distance. He replied that it was such a simple ride that even a one legged parrot would be able to ride it. I thought again of Hooters and his fear of riding more than 5 km at any one time.
Cheryl had rung in to say that she was only a few minutes away, so we would have the rare privelege of, not one, but TWO female Ghost Riders with us. The only one we had not heard from was, our other new recruit “Third John” (now renamed Quasimodo for reasons best not entered into at this point of time). Since the hour was already getting late we had no choice but to set pedal without him.
It was a good feeling to be, once again, heading down our favourite trail. With a substantial peloton, I think we were all in high spirits as we bounced our way into history. We had not travelled far before we were confronted with an amazing sight – as far as the eye could see the trail was filled with a vast array of multicoloured prams, being pushed by an assortment of multicoloured mothers. What do you call such a group of prams ? Surely not a peloton? A waggle? Maybe a wiggle? Perhaps a squabble? Whatever you call it, it was a unique spectacle.
We had no sooner past the Valley of the Prams when we noticed a familiar straightbacked rider approaching us. It was none other than the missing Quasimodo. Once introductions were completed we were able to continue on as a peloton of seven riders.
In spite of a slightly slower ride and a late start we managed to arrive at the coffee shop in plenty of time for our refreshments. I was also pleased to see that all had safely made it thus far, including our latest recruit.
With the days getting progressively shorter we all knew that we would have to keep an eye on the time, but it sure is always fun to skylark around and luxuriate in our own stupidity for a few minutes. As Bob sat there in the sun with a banana peel perched on his head, I could not help but feel that maybe he had fallen off his bike once too often. Then maybe the fact that he had two ladies in the group was the reason for his good humour.
All too soon we were back on the bikes again showing Geraldine the traditional return path on the far side of the river. With the fine weather, the good company, and probably too much sugar and caffeine in our blood we were all acting rather silly by now. “Let’s see if the girls can beat El Capitan”, I yelled. “After all, it is one of the secret initiation rites”. (I did not want to tell them about the other one).
Somewhat surprisingly they did not take too much prompting to match their legs against the sheer arrogance of the Capitan. Even more surprising, perhaps, was the fact that they reached about as high up the cliff as any of us has ever done. It was good to see them come crashing to the ground when they ran out of steam, loudly cheered by the rest of the peloton at the bottom.
After the girls had tried it was time for Quasimodo to have a final turn. His approach seemed to involve tacking from side to side and appeared to have some credibility as the elusive sign seemed to loom near him. Fortunately gravity intervened to soon have him also defeated and in disarray.
Once the newcomers were sufficiently battered and bruised I reminded everyone that it was rapidly getting late. Although Geraldine had apparently packed her own tent and sleeping bag, and was already wearing her pyjamas, the rest of us were not so well equipped.
We now knew that we could not waste any further time and started to increase the tempo. The Intermediate Sprint came and went with the traditional winner taking the honours (me). Later on Little John dug deep and managed to open up a substantial break on the rest of the peloton, but he was run down by the chasers just before Killara. This seemed to unnerve him a little and he staged a spectacular and bloody crash while executing the chicanes. With him sprawled all over the trail, I had no alternative than to follow suit and have a crash of my own in the same place. This was developing into something of a bloodbath.
With blood pouring down his leg and arm he manfully saddled up again and soldiered on. Now why couldn’t Hooters be around to witness what true fighting spirit is all about ?
We were now so close to Wandin that I was hopeful that no further crashes or disasters could befall us, however I soon discovered that punctures can still happen at any time. While I replaced the tube under rapidly failing light the rest of the peloton bolted to Mt Evelyn.
Somehow in spite of all the crashes and assorted diversions we all managed to get back to the carpark by about 5.20 pm. There was even time for a short chat before we all parted company and retreated to our homes to lick our wounds and look forward to next week. Did we have fun? You bet we did.
P.S. One other thing had been decided during the ride – that once a rider has completed four rides with us they can qualify to wear the official jerysey. I guess that means that Cheryl can become our first official UNIFORMED female Ghost Rider now. Congratulations.