In Which a Petulant Ghost Resorts to Sabotage

Some days the conditions are just so perfect that it would undeniably be a mortal sin NOT to jump on the bike. Thursday 11th March was just one of those days. The sky was blue, the wind was down, the temperature was about 22C and the wide open spaces on the trail were beckoning loudly. Good enough reason in anybody’s language to drop everything and pack the bikes for yet another transit.

As Bob, Peter and I headed off from Mt Evelyn, the main topic of conversation was the recently completed Walhalla Goldfields Classic. Peter and I did our best to convince Bob that he had really missed out on a great experience. After all it is not every day that you get lost in the bush, threatened by an chain sawmurderer, and nearly launch your bike into orbit. Bob wrinkled his nose, and said that if it meant getting his knees dirty, he was glad he did not come after all.

Soon after we started on the trail I received a call from John who informed me that he was already at Wandin and would be leaving straight away “just to give us a moving target”. At this stage I was not sure that John (even in full flight) could ever really constitute a truly “moving target”, any more than a Himalayan glacier could constitute a flowing river. I suspected that he would be overtaken by the peloton within a couple of km from Wandin.

Since our previous ride my faithful old red rattler had been in to Peter’s workshop for some much needed cycle surgery and I was pleased to discover the complete absence of unwanted noises from my bottom bracket (my bike was quieter also). It was so nice of Peter to INSIST on a “special” service for my ailing bike.

After reaching Wandin and setting off down the long slope in pursuit of John, the pace increased steadily from 25 to 30 kph. I tried to stay safely tucked in behind Peter and Bob as they pounded away. By the time we reached Killara there was still no sign of John, although I half expected him to appear from the bushes at any minute following one of his regular off-trail calisthenics episodes.

Surprisingly the first glimpse of John’s yellow jersey was not gained until the long bridge at Woori Yallock. He was still about 1 km in front and I was dismayed to see that I had little chance of catching him before the Woori Yallock station. When I finally pulled in at the station I was more than a little alarmed to see John actually sweating. He had apparently actually been riding at higher than his customary 15 kph, just to beat us to the station. Perhaps there is some hope for him after all.

The only problem with all this unacustomed exertion from John was that we had the devil’s own job trying to get him moving again after his long drink break. He was acting like he had already finished his work for the day. Fortunately his mate Warren had indicated that he was also riding today, and John was forced to mount up for the planned rendezvous at Launching Place.

As we rode off again, John yelled “Hey Dad, wait for me” and started his familiar electronic caucophony with his tooter. I guess we had been wrong about him after all. Soon we were joined by Warren and the peloton was complete as we completed the rest of the ride to Warburton.

As the peloton jostled for position for the outward intermediate sprint I was feeling quietly confident, although I knew that the greatest threat would come from someone called Bob. The speed gradually increased. I was in the lead with Peter and Bob close behind. With about 400 metres to go I made the change to the large chain ring in order to make the final run for the finish line. It was at this time that I discovered what Peter had busied himself doing to my bike over the previous few days.

With a crunch of metal I observed in horror as my chain jumped clear off the chain ring and proceeded to jam between against the bottom bracket. I knew my sprint had drawn to a premature finish. At this point Peter flashed alongside, cracked a wicked smile and flew across the line ahead of me. As I wrestled with the greasy chain, I reluctantly had to admit that Peter is not as nice a guy as I had previously believed. Anyone that would deliberately resort to an act of sabotage, in order to gain that elusive sprint win, must be in need of some sort of counselling!

I finally managed to rethread the chain and complete the remainder of the ride expecting some other critical piece of machinery to fall from my bike at any moment.

At the coffee shop the main topic of conversation was our next big adventure – the Great Traverse, now only a little over two weeks away. When John was asked how much of the trail we was planning to ride, I was shocked to hear his response. Rather than increase his distance from his previous effort (over 12 months ago), he had actually decided to reduce it instead. At that rate, by 2010 he won’t even be leaving the Wangaratta Motel!

Warren seemed eager enough to set a new personal best, but John was equally determined to establish his personal worst. Bob wondered what size bomb we would need to insert in John’s knicks in order to get him moving, Peter suggested that maybe what he needs is another bike. I thought that would be a good idea, provided it had three wheels and a big yellow flag.

In spite of John’s backslidden riding efforts, it was such a perfect afternoon to sit in the sun and drink coffee, that no-one seemed very keen to start off on the return journey. Eventually the cleats were engaged and we were on our way. There is something so good about riding the trail in tight formation, and we managed to hold quite good form for some considerable distance. It really is so much easier in a group than riding as a solitary rider, whether it’s just protection from the wind, or some weird physical phenomenon, the km just seem to fly away.

All too soon we were bidding farewell to Warren as we prepared for the final uphill stretch from Woori Yallock onwards. Last week we were demoralised to find the Killara drinking trough out of action but fortunately the waters were flowing again this week, and it was a welcome spot for a final drink and chat before the ride would be over for another week.

While Bob and Peter were somewhat distracted I took the opportunity to quietly sneek off early and somehow managed to maintain the break all the way back to Mt Evelyn. If I can’t beat them by fair means, it looks like I can always resort to foul instead. With the sun still shining brightly, yet another ride drew to a very pleasant close. How many sleeps till next week?