“Is that the guy who is always paranoid about the weather at Cape Otway?” she asked. I could hardly believe my ears. After all, we had only just met this new couple at Mt Evelyn and they had never been on any of our rides. They had simply seen us gathering and came over for a chat. I started to tell them what our group was all about when Hooters went driving past with a flambouyent tooting of his (car) horns on his way to Millgrove.As I started to apologise for his disgraceful behaviour our new female companion confessed that she had been another closet web site reader who had been following our weekly exploits with interest.
Apparently she had not believed that someone as eccentric as John could actually exist, but now she could see that we were not joking. If anything, we had actually been portraying Hooters in a favourable light, lest the real story repel any new potential riders from ever joining us.
On a more serious note. this was to be our first Thursday ride since the death of John “Eggs” Green. It seemed such a short time since John had met me at this very spot and soon had impressed us all with his keen love of cycling. When the initial idea of our Great China Ride had begun, he had been the very first to put his name on the list. He had also confided to me that he had a dream to do a solo ride around Australia in 2007. Those dreams would unfortunately remain unfulfilled, but in his short time with us he proved to be highly competitive rider who never liked to be left behind the peloton. We will miss his lean and lanky frame powering up the trail with us. Wwe have decided to dedicate all our future Reefton Rides to his memory.
While we were chatting to our guests I was pleased to see Barry arrive for his first ride with us. I have known Barry for some time as a client and he had already completed a couple of Tuesday evening rides, but this would be his first time on the real trail. Being only a youthful 41 years old, I suspected that he would not have too much trouble covering the distance with us.
Also on his first ride with us was Bob Leedham. He had already spoken to me on the phone and told me of his desire to become another Ghost Rider. Apparently he had a history of track and road racing in his earlier years but was only recently rediscovering the joy of cycling. Since we already had one “BOB” in our group our new friend would have to become “TWO BOB”. Sounds like a pretty good name to me anyway.
When Cracker, Little John and JCL joined us I knew that it was time to get underway. After all, we needed to show all these new guys what the finer arts of cycling were all about. So down the big hill we went with the newbies right on our tail. They certainly didn’t seem concerned about the brisk pace we were setting. Within a few minutes we were progressively joined by Dr Phil, Ben, Garibaldi and Crasher. Even at this early stage it was obvious that a big peloton was brewing. After brief introductions we were underway once again. I could soon hear Crasher telling the new recruits how hard it was to win a “National Title” (even though you can buy any number of them on Ebay for about $3.50 each).
AS we charged down the long slope from Wandin we were further enlarged by the addition of Hooters, Big Al and Lisa to the group. With the sun shining, our legs spinning and our hearts pumping, it really did feel good to be back out on our familiar turf (the all too familiar horse manure under our wheels was not so welcome).
In spite of the fact that we already had 13 riders in the peloton, there were early indications that many more were still waiting to join in further along the trail. This turned out to be only partly true – for although there were still more riders to join in, only some of them were waiting for us. Apparently Peter had already taken off from Woori Yallock with his own minor peloton in an underhand way to arrive at Milgrove before us and steal the pick of the sandwiches.
It was only as we were riding up the final stretch to Warburton that we finally caught up with them – already on their way back down to the coffee shop. The rest of us, however were on a mission. We still had to complete the ride up to the Main St and pay a visit to our old watering hole. I suggested that we should all ride through the car park of the coffee shop and then head back to Milgrove. That way the proprietors could see just how much business they would be missing out on. That would serve them right for the way they have been treating us lately.
Our massive group circled the shop like a bunch of flies around a rubbish bin. I suspect that the ladies started seeing dollar signs in their eyes, only to see us disappear like the early morning mist on a hot summer’s day. For today at least our money was going to be spent at a venue that was much more eager for our business. Ten minutes later we were finally all gathered at the Trail Blazers Cafe in Milgrove.
With the addition of Mal, Chris, Robyn, Warby Phil, Ray, Legs, Spanner, Lex, Roy and Wonka the riding group had grown to 23. Add yet another new rider called Peter and we attained a clear new record of 24. The only problem with such a big group is that we overwhelemed the coffee shop. The proprietor took it all in good style and proceeded to serve up a large plate of sandwiches and copious amounts of steaming hot coffee. He even combined this with a large smile and dozens of fresh cakes.
AS I looked about at the large group contentedly grazing outside the shop I took some pride in what we have achieved over the past three years. Not only have we grown in numbers but we have accumulated a treasure trove of shared cycling memories and made some tremendous friends. Sometimes I am not even sure what we actually did with ourselves before the group started. What I am sure of is that we have started something which is so obviously doing us good. Apart from the one obvious exception of Hooters, all the rest of us had progressed steadily. I looked about for Hooters but he was nowhere to be seen. (I later learned that he had ridden off to be bus depot in an attempt to get a lift back to Woori Yallock).
I had to admit that it was a most pleasant change to have service from a business that actually seemed pleased to see us. The only problem (hopefully temporary) is that they didn’t have enough tables or chairs to accomodate our throng. Next week we will probably just take our food over the road to the park opposite.
As usual, all too soon it was time to saddle off and head off again. It certainly was an impressive sight as 24 riders wobbled off down the trail, trying to digest the cakes and sandwiches rattling around in their tummies. In an effort to keep the group together we kept a lid on the pace, but by Launching Place we were starting to spread out. Young Barry pulled up at the lights and admitted he was starting to feel the pinch. I encouraged him by reminding him that he only had “another 25 km and three big hills to go”. He didn’t seem pleased.
The late afternoon sun was warm on our faces as we turned towards Woori Yallock. What a great feeling it was to be leading such an impressive armada of elite sportspeople. What a pity there weren’t bigger crowds gathered to watch us pass by. With such thoughts drifting through my mind I was suddenly brought back to reality by a weird apparition alongside the trail near Launching Place.
With the impressive display of plumes and colours at first I thought it was Priscilla Queen of the Dessert who had come to watch us pass by. When I had a little more time to bring my aging eyes into focus I discovered that it was a huge peacock that was putting on a special show just for us. Over the years we have seen numerous examples of wildlife – including echidnas, snakes, blue tongue lizards, demented magpies, a snail plague, heaps of ducks, hundreds of rabbits and even a three legged dog – but never have we seen a peacock. I guess it only goes to show us that every ride really is unique.
At Woori Yallock we stopped for a chat before bidding many of riders farewell. I looked at Barry and noticed that his eyes had glazed over and his legs were shaking. “Only the worst part yet to come” I reminded him. He didn’t answer.
The final section back to Mt Evelyn was undertaken at a fairly slow pace but somehow we still managed to arrive back at the car park on time. I noticed that “Two Bob” was determined to stay with the pack on the final climb. This guy looks like he really enjoys a challenge.
Some time later Barry finally got staggered back to his car and informed us that it was the first time that he had ridden more than 10 km without stopping for a couple of day’s rest. If the sweat running down his back was any indication, he had obviously thoroughly enjoyed himself.
Now that we have set a new benchmark of 24 riders, I guess the next major milestone will be 30 riders. I wonder how long that will take to achieve.