In Which 5 Ghosts meet a Guest

Ever since we unveiled our new jerseys only 4 short weeks ago it seems that the reputation of the Warby Riders has been growing exponentially. It has been difficult to keep up with the flood of new applications for memberships. Another problem that we hadn’t anticipated is the new distraction of being constantly stopped along the trail for our autographs. This really is a tough job, but as they say “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”.

When I had yet another approach from a keen rider to join us for a ride I first had to check our their bona fides. After all we cannot let any “Johnny come lately” join our esteemed members. On their application form the new recruit stated that they had recently completed the Round Victoria Bicycle Ride and was about to depart for the Round New Zealand Ride. With those credentials I had to admit that I could not stand in their way. After all John has been riding the trail for two years and still hasn’t ridden more than halfway.

The enigmatic and somewhat mysterious “Charley” (aka Cheryl)

Since the weather was fine, we made plans to start a little further back than usual. This would also give us a chance to assess the new rider’s hill climbing ability on the early climb up to Mt Evelyn. At 12.30 pm we were assembled at the starting location. Bob and I were proudly decked out in club colours, Peter was apparently still on his way and “Charley” (the new recruit) was ready to hit the trail.

A few minutes later we were on our way and a mobile call from Peter indicated that he was not far behind. Bob decided to befriend the new recruit and offered to give Charley some “expert” advice. I started to wonder why Bob was acting so strangely and finally noticed that our new rider looked a little different to all previous riders. In fact our Charley turned out to be a Cheryl. Although we had previously insisted that this was a “men only” club, in these days of equal opportunity I guess it was inevitable that sooner or later our sacred bastions of testosterone would be challenged by the fairer sex.

Within a few moments I quickly realised that my faithful red rattler had come with another previously unknown (and unwanted) accessory – every time I pushed down with my left foot it emitted a rather gut wrenching creak. This was to accompany me for the entire 75 km of the ride. The only way I could get any respite was to decleat my left foot and pedal only with my right foot. Since I did not want to develop a lopsided development of my superb thighs I decided that this was not a practical solution and resigned to keep the creak instead.

When Peter caught up with us at Mt Evelyn our peloton had grown to 4 riders . The day had turned out to be perfect for riding and I had even heard a whisper that we were to be graced with a rare visit from the invisible man (aka Mal Doswell). A look around Mt Evelyn however revealed no sign of him and a phone call indicated that he had been “held up” and would meet us further down the trail ( a very familar story).

The downhill ride was completed a little slower than usual, mainly because Bob and Peter kept riding in front of Cheryl to try to impress her with the relative sizes of their calves. It was rather sad to see two such elderly guys acting like schoolboys. I tried to ignore their antics and maintain a suitable degree of separation and decorum.

We arrived at Wandin looking for John, but he had apparently decided to again shorten his ride even more than usual by starting somewhere within walking distance of Warburton. It was on the downhill ride from Wandin that we had another unexpected surprise. A couple of keen riders rode up behind to join us and introduced themselves as Mal and Amanda. Apparently they had been avidly following our weekly adventures via the website and decided they would like to come along and share in some of our glory. This really was developing into something of a peloton of major significance – now we even had riding groupies!

Eventually as we pulled into Woori Yallock station we noticed John doing his familiar calisthenics by the trackside. I think he was trying to show off his legs in front of Cheryl. After being introduced he promptly said “I usually ride the whole trail but unfortunately I had to shorten today’s ride because I had a flat”. We had to remind him that actually he has been riding the trail for two years and still hasn’t managed to complete the full length. On the other hand Cheryl has been riding for two months and is already faster and fitter than him.

Spurred on by our torrent of insults John mounted his bike and immediately cranked up the pace to almost 20 kph. As we rode past him, he commented that he would prefer to stay behind and “make sure Cheryl was OK”. Cheryl took one look at him and his bike and commented that “his seat looked a little low” and said that she found it difficult to ride at such a slow speed without falling off. I don’t think John heard her remark as he rode on at an ever slowing speed with frequent blasts of his electronic earsplitter.

Mal Doswell had still not appeared but did report in on his mobile to tell us that he was only a couple of km behind and would be overhauling us any minute. With this added incentive we increased the pace and even had an intermediate hill climb section up to the Launching Place Pub. I got an early lead but heard Bob approaching hot on my heels. Although I expected him to go sailing right by, all I heard was a torrent of oaths from somewhere behind. As I waited at the finish for him to arrive he ranted something about “missing the gear change”. I guess old age really is a bummer after all (and speaking of bummers, I wonder how his famous haemorhoids are going).

After crossing the creek and introducing Cheryl to the back roads of Yarra Junction we started to jockey for positions in the regular intermediate sprint. While Bob and I were eyeing each other off about 400 m from the finish, Peter started a premature breakaway and was soon 30 metres in the clear. What was this guy trying to do? Bob lept into action and set off in pursuit. I fumbled with my frame changer and tried to select the most appropriate gear for the chase. (Peter was now about 50 m in the clear). With my gears finally organised I cranked up to about 43 kph and managed to just catch Peter before the finish, but unfortunately Bob had bolted clean away to easily score the points.

Twenty minutes later my heart rate had almost returned to normal and we slowed the pace to a leisurely 20 kph for the remainder of the ride to Warburton. Unsurprisingly Mal was still nowhere to be seen, but did belatedly turn up when we were happily seated outside the coffee shop. More introductions were made all round and soon all 8 riders were enjoying animated discussion around the cappucinos and cakes. The sun was shining brightly and with the conversation all 100% bicycle related, what better way would there be to pass an afternoon?

The enigmatic and somewhat mysterious “Charley” (aka Cheryl)

Our new friend Mal (Not Doswell) informed us that he rides with the Southern Vets and knew our mate Daryl O’Grady (he even knew about Daryl’s infamous bunker buster).

Unfortunately such moments are all too fleeting and soon I had to remount my squeeking bike and head back to Lilydale.

The return ride is usually taken at a more sedate pace although when we reached the straight for the second intermediate sprint I decided to lead out first. Although I could hear Mal and Bob rapidly approaching from behind somehow the finish post came first and I enjoyed a rare first place.

A little further on we witnessed another first for the Warby Trail when an oversized blue tongue lizard scampered across in front of us. This trail really does dish up some great surprises.

On the final climb up to Mt Evelyn Mal and I somehow became involved in another impromptu sprint. He kept increasing the pace bit by bit as my chest started heaving more and more. Knowing that I had to uphold the pride of the warbies I just tried to hold my position. Finally we reached the end of the path at the top of the hill side by side at about 25 kph. My heart was beating at a new record pace of 176 per minute. Only a photo of the finish would ever reveal the real winner.

After waiting a few minutes for the group to reform we set off on the final downhill section to Lilydale. This is usually a pleasant way to unwind after a hard ride, but unfortunately on this day there was still one (not so pleasant) event to occur. About half way down the hill as we were travelling at about 28 kph we passed a small group of layabout youths gathered around a heavily tattooed (and lightly brained) dolt of a fellow. As we rode by he yelled some sort of derogatory remark which we tried to ignore.

Around the next bend we discovered what these morons had been busy spending their afternoon doing. Across the path, at head height, they had tightly strung multiple lengths of dark string, which we rode straight into. Although the consequences could have been very serious indeed the only injury we did incur was a couple of cuts to my face. I suppose I should be grateful that the string did not cut across my eye or bring one of us off our bikes. Although we were sorely tempted to turn back and confront the culprits we decided to keep our peace and continue back to our cars instead.

Back at the cars we were able to look back on the events of the afternoon and agree that it had really been a memorable ride, and, apart from the incident with the string, one that would stand out as something special. The warbies want to wish Cheryl good luck as she heads off to complete the New Zealand Bike Tour in a couple of weeks.