Only a few short weeks ago a few brave members of the legendary Warby Ghost Riders rode into cycling history by staging an epic cycle ascent of the South Face of Donna Buang. Not to be content with just leaving their names in the history books for future generations of young riders to dream over, these same riders recently completed the Australian equivalent of the Tour de France – the “Lilydale to Upper Yarra Dam” marathon.
As most of our readers will no doubt know, this ride has often been attempted, but has seldom been completed on anything other than teams of yaks or huge amphibious 4 wheel drive vehicles. On the 12th October 2002, however, Dennis had a dream to complete this ride on his $200 road bike. Where most others just gasped with amazement and said “It can’t be done”, Dennis was willing to put his reputation on the line and say “Let’s get there in time for lunch”.
At 8.30 am on a beautiful spring morning Dennis arrived at Lilydale Lake and waited for his support crew to arrive. Unfortunately his chief riding aide (Bob “crasher” Lewis) had slept in and had to be woken with a mobile phone call. His second lieutenant (Duncan “muscles” Mayall) who was to be the chief hill climber of the expedition, had arrived at the starting point but spent about 30 mins driving around in circles trying to find a way into the carpark. At this early stage Dennis was starting to have second thoughts about the calibre of his riding partners, however he managed to hide his doubts and by about 9.30 the three riders were ready to start.
Bob had prepared his plastic fantastic (aka “The Titanic”) for the ride and Duncan had lashed out and bought a new Giant Peloton road bike, especially for the ride. He assured the others that it was a great bike, even though he had no idea what size it really was. It was originally planned that there would be five riders starting at the Lake but Ross “stump puller” Bury and Mal “firecracker” Doswell had apparently gone missing in action.
After a brief word of exhortation from Dennis, the group of three set out in quest of the riders’ Holy Grail. Undaunted by the enormity of the challenge the first part of the ride was passed in high spirits. Dennis was careful not to exhaust the strength of the other two riders and deliberately set an initial slow pace up the first hill to Mt Evelyn.
The three riders arrived at Wandin without incident and even had managed to make up a small margin of lost time, when they heard a cheerful toot toot behind them. They turned around to see that Ross had decided to put aside his fears and join them after all. He even brought his special hand made Massey Ferguson bicycle with him. Bob gazed in amazement at the sight. The wheels alone were so heavy they could have been used on a steam roller. It would later prove to be the perfect vehicle for removing fallen trees or dead cows from blocking the road ahead.
The peloton was now beginning to take real shape as the riders pedaled down to Woori Yallock and the great unknown challenges that lay ahead. Rumours had circulated during the week that they could be joined by other mystery riders later in the day, but that was far from their minds as they flew through Lower Launching Place at about 30 kph. The high speed however did appear to induce a degree of hallucination in the riders as they swore they could hear the unmistakable sound of a train whistle echoing through the hills. Not wishing to appear senile, all the riders tried to ignore the sound and just concentrate on the sounds of the rotating pedals instead.
By the time they reached Launching Place the mystery was finally solved when Dennis received a mobile call from John saying that he had been trying out his new Mk III Ghost Whistle when the peloton had passed him without stopping. He was now left hopelessly behind and needed the group to let him catch up!
After about 15 mins John managed to cycle the 200 metres and reached the other four riders. This time he had really gone TOO FAR – John was sporting the biggest pair of hooters any of them had ever seen on a bike. No, he had not taken up cross-dressing, he had been busy adorning his bike with huge speakers, inverters, amplifiers, battery chargers, generators, transmitters, and assorted pieces from his Lego Technic set. The thing looked Pine Gap tracking station, only heavier. At least they knew if they got lost in the outback they would have no trouble attracting overhead satellites.
The enlarged group set off again, accompanied by regular blasts of the whistle. Unfortunately John soon discovered a weakness in his new design – the wind kept catching in the funnels of his hooters and driving him backwards. Within 10 minutes he was singing a familiar refrain “Why do we do This?” This was indeed a question that none of the other riders could answer because none of them had any idea why John did it at all.
By this time the day was passing and the intrepid group was now about 45 mins behind schedule. It was now imperative that they push on without further delay. Unless they could make Warburton by 11.45 am they would all start to suffer the fate most dreaded by all real cyclists – cappuccino deprivation. So off they went, with a push-push and a toot-toot (and lots of ha-ha’s) they soon made it to the watering hole at Warburton.
At this point they were met by a group of supporters. They had heard that elite athletes were often hounded by female groupies, but now they could see just how true it was. These women seemed to really like them!!! They guessed it would become just another burden they would have to bear.
It was also at Warburton that they had the biggest surprise of all – a new potential recruit to the Warby Ghost Riders. The list of true cycling greats is not very long, but includes such memorable names as Merkx, Indurain, Armstrong, Dawson, Jalabert, Boardman and a few others. It soon became apparent why the name “Billson” would never appear in that list.
Warren “chopper” Billson had turned up with a bike that he had found discarded on the side of the Trail, in fact he was still building it when the others arrived for coffee. After several fine adjustments to the angle of the seat and several large whacks with the largest shifting spanner they had ever seen, he proudly announced that he was now ready to ride.
Well ride he did ! All the way to his waiting car where he stuffed the bike in the boot and headed off up the highway. This appalling example was too much for John and so he too decided that the best way to enjoy a ride is not to ride at all. The peloton therefore shrank back to the same four riders as they headed off the edge of the Melways map and into the unknown.
Five minutes out of Warburton however, they quickly realized why it was a mistake to drink too much coffee and all riders had to disappear into the bushes for a necessary lightening of their loads. Once this task was completed they knew they had but one task left undone – to reach the Upper Yarra Dam.
Bob and Duncan started to get itchy feet and rode ahead to spy out the lie of the land, Dennis carefully managed his energy and Ross went looking for any tree stumps that needed pulling out. It was a beautiful day, with just about perfect riding weather, and the thought of a nice picnic lunch waiting just a few more km further on proved to be enough incentive to ensure that all riders successfully completed the ride.
When they reached the Dam they found John busy cooking up a huge BBQ lunch with lots of sausages, steak and lumps of lard (for himself). It was obvious that watching cyclists must be very exhausting work indeed.
Perhaps the best part of any ride is talking about it afterwards and reliving the memories. Lunch was enjoyed with much merriment and good food. These shared adventures will be long remembered (and probably often embellished) in the years ahead. The female groupies that they had met at Warburton had also followed them all the way to the Dam so all the saddle sores and tired legs were soon forgotten.
I wonder what these guys will get up to when they get their next day leave from their Nursing Home ?????
And we wonder how long it will be before Ross finally buys his road bike……..