In Which Big Al Unveils his new Toy!

When I met Graham in the Fish and Chip shop a week ago, it had been almost twenty years since I had last seen him. I remembered him as a great English teacher with a dry sense of humour, but had lost contact with him after leaving teaching all those years ago. As we started to catch up on what we had each been up over the past couple of decades, the conversation somehow turned to cycling. Graham said that he had been thinking about starting to cycle and though that he had an old bike “somewhere in the garage”. I told him about the Thursday afternoon rides and where he could meet us if he wanted to take part in a ride. Since many people say they are planning to come along and then never appear, I wondered if he would really show up on the day.

I arrived at Mt Evelyn about 20 minutes early and found that Little John, 2 Bob and Chris were already there trying out the coffee at COGS coffee shop. Since I had time to spare, I decided to join them. It was my first COGS coffee, but proved to be quite enjoyable. While we were enjoying the early caffeine flow, we were joined by Lothar and also by Brendan and Big Al, who had both ridden back from Woori Yallock. Alan also took the opportunity to unveil his brand new Cannondale mountain bike. I had to admit that it certainly looked pretty impressive – sleek, black and mean. It was clear to see that this guy really is becoming another cycling nut. I reminded him that this meant that he would definitely have to ride the Donna Buang Lungbuster in September. By his nonchalant response I gather that this was indeed a foregone conclusion.

Chris also had a new toy with her. On her wrist she was wearing her brand new Casio sport watch, recently purchased in Bangkok. I suspected that the watch weighed almost as much as her bike with its huge array of features and functions. I also had a toy with me – the new $140 HASA mountain bike that I had recently purchased in Kunming. By comparison with everyone else’s new gadgets, it did look a bit outclassed.

While we were enjoying our coffees and looking at Chris’ watch I was surprised to see Mal Dosell turn up with a young mate of his. Since it had been many months since Mal had been able to join us on a Thursday ride, it was a pleasant surprise. His wiry mate was introduced as “Paul” and I had to admit that he certainly looked like a cyclist, although we would not find out his true form until we were out on the trail. When JCL and Dr Phil arrived we new that we would have the biggest starting group we had experienced for some time.

After everyone had completed their coffee and brief introductions we made the ride finally got under way. The afternoon was fine and cool, although the riders from Woori Yallock had warned us to expect a howling wind further down the trail. So much for the sunny, still days that Autumn is supposed to bring.

The first section of the ride was completed at a moderate pace, but somehow still managed to stretch the peloton. A glance behind indicated that Mal and Paul were nowhere in sight. I could only assume that the delay must have been caused by Mal, surely young Paul could not be struggling already.

As we neared Woori Yallock I looked around for my friend Graham. He was nowhere in sight, and neither was anybody else either. We had no choice but continue on our way to Warburton. It was not until we passed Launching Place that we caught sight of another group of riders ahead of us. We progressively narrowed the gap and realised that the group contained Spanner and Wonka, but I could not make out who the third rider was. Dressed in long business trousers (tucked into long black socks), a blue shirt, plaid cardigan and shiny black brogues, the guy looked like a variation of Inspector Gadget Mark II.

It was not until I drew closer that this mysterious third rider turned out to be my old friend Graham. He had turned up after all, and had headed off with the preliminary group. In spite of his rather unorthodox clothing, he did seem to be making good speed along the trail, although he later told me that it was his first time on a bike in over 10 years.

We were soon at Milgrove where Mal, Paul, Warren and Little John decided to stop while the rest of us completed the ride to Warburton. Willy Wonka set off at a cracking pace up the hill, leaving the rest of us to give chase. A breathless U turn at the summit and then a gentler roll back down to Millgrove for afternoon tea saw the entire group together for the first time. With new faces in our midst we were able to enjoy a lengthy and spirited chat, catching up on the events of the past few weeks. Apparently Paul was having second thoughts about riding all the way back to Mt Evelyn and arranged with Spanner for a lift from Woori Yallock.

The return ride saw us back on Settlement Rd, albeit without the traditional sprint. The darkening skies and plummeting temperatures gave portent that a cloudburst might not be far away, but fortunately the rain held off long enough for us all to get safely and dryly back to our cars.

After passing Woori Yallock Mal and JCL staged a quick getway and opened up a 100 metre gap on the rest of us. I tried har to make up the leeway, but with the head howling in my face, it was a much harder task than it looked. It was not until we reached the bottom of the climb to Wandin that I finally made it up to their wheels, but by that time I was almost spent. Lex, who had been getting a protected ride,just behind me, quickly passed and shot off with JCL on a final sprint to Mt Evelyn. Mal and I were left to complete the remainder of the uphill slog at a more moderate pace.

It had been a most enjoyable ride and gave me cause to reflect on just how far we have all come in the past three years. Our times together on the bikes are precious to me and the friends I have made are worth more to me than I can probably ever say. What a great way to spend a grey Thursday afternoon.