After all those months of fighting our way along the dusty trail under an unforgiving sun and with the flies and heat a continual torment, I don’t think that any of us will be too sorry to finally bid farwell to the summer of 06-07. Not only do we have to regularly compete against the ravages of our aging bodies, but now we have to contend with global warming as well.
I cast an eye upwards at the blazing sun, and facing the prospect of yet another day without rain, I decided that I would start at Wandin and ride back to meet the peloton at COGS. At least that meant I would escape the final ascent in the maximum heat of the afternoon. It’s not so pleasant trying to pedal your bike up that blasted hill with the rubber melting off your tyres as you go. The incredible heat also expands the length of the chain and makes it harder to change gears.
By the time I arrived at Wandin and started to unpack the bike, the temperature was already touching 37C in the shade. Not that there was actually any shade left – the heat had burned all the leaves off the trees and the only sign of foliage was the lonesome sight of the occasional tumbleweed being carried along by the searing headwind. Although the conditions were not fit for man or beast, I knew that we had a job to do. If the Ghost Riders would not ride the trail then surely no one else would be game to give it a try.
In the couple of minutes it took me to unload the bike, the skin on the back of my neck started to crackle like the pork rind on Christmas Day. The frame of the bike was already too hot to touch and I could hear the water quietly simmering away in my drink bottle. I decided to dampen down my bike seat before sitting on it lest the hot plastic become fused to the lycra bottom of my knicks. Then with a heave of determination I headed up towards Mt Evelyn.
The heat had obviously served to increase the gradient of the hill to something approaching 25% and I went looking for a much lower gear than normal to overcome the combined effects of thermal energy and gravitational attraction as I wobbled my way towards COGS. In spite of the appalling conditions it is amazing just what a Ghost Rider can achieve and I finally found myself pulling into COGS at about 12.50 pm.
I was pleased to see that I was no longer alone as there was a small collection of familiar yellow jerseys already waiting for the ride to start. After downing half the contents of my drink bottle (trying hard not to get scalded) I started to feel a little more human. After heaving a torrent of abuse at another rider who rode past without wearing a helmet (the heat and the devil made me do it), I announced that it was time to gird our loins and head off towards Warburton.
At least the first section of downhill riding gave me a chance to rest for a while before we emerged into the fearsome cauldron that is the exposed section into Woori Yallock. Pulling into the station platform our riders went searching for any scraps of shade they could find. We could hear the sounds of rocks exploding in the sun as we tried to prepare each other for the next section. I looked about at the blackened and blistered faces gathered around me and realised afresh just what a formidable cycling unit we had become.
Over the past several months our resolve had been challenged and our mettle thoroughly tested, but we now knew full well that our calf muscles had been well and truly annealed in the cycling furnace and that we were able to overcome even the harshest conditions. And all this just to justify eating a cream cake without feeling guilty.
With the temperature hovering in the mid 40s and the headwind now blowing at a force ten gale we remounted and set our sights toward Milgrove. As I battled to turn the cranks I tried to ignore the unnerving sensation of the yellow lycra becoming permanently fused into the skin on my back. I looked around at the cyclist alongside me. Gary’s sun scorched face was frozen in a rictus of pain as he silently continued to turn over the cranks.
Behind me I could hear the voices of our riders trying to encourage each other on. Although most of what they were saying made little sense (eg “keep going Crasher – the Fuzzy Wuzzies are gaining on us”) I knew that their hearts were in the right place, even if their minds were not. I guess it’s hard to think logically when the top of your head is hotter than a frying pan.
Somehow we managed to fight our way through the molten rock that was everywhere along the trail and emerge into the welcome haven of Milgrove. What a welcome sight it was to see the cold Big M cartons waiting for us in the fridge and the cream cakes begging us to eat them. They had even made a start on the Ghost Rider Theme Park on the far side of the car park.
We proceeded to replace valuable calories as we chatted together. I knew however, that we still had the hottest part of the day ahead of us. What we had been through so far would be a kid’s picnic compared to the horrors that still awaited later in the day. After letting the riders enjoy a longer than usual break I finally got them back on their bikes and pedalling back towards Mt Evelyn. As usual, the burning wind had somehow rotated itself during the lunch break to be, once again, right in our faces for the return ride.
What happened in the course of the next 90 minutes could fill a battler’s almanac, however suffice to say that somehow we did prevail over the conditions and make it safely back to our cars. I am not so sure we would have survived without the benefit of a thorough drenching at the Seville water trough – that is surely a welcome sight on a day like this.
Now that summer is almost over, can we finally have a little cooler weather ??? PLEASE.