According to the official chronicles of the Ghost Riders, Gary joined us for the first time on 10th February 2005. Apparently he had been admiring our legs for some time, watching from his secret vantage point hidden in the bushes somewhere near Yarra Junction. Although he longed to ride with a group of real riders he was nevertheless unsure of whether he had the raw material to make a true Ghost Rider. It was not until he finally mustered up the courage to introduce himself to me via a rather cryptic e-mail, that we became aware of his furtive behaviour.
From this humble origin Gary (aka Garibaldi) quickly establsihed himself as a core member of our group, rarely missing a Thursday Ride and always willing to share his advice (often uninvited) with other less experienced riders. It did not take him long to really make a fantastic impression with his satirical cartoons (mostly at the expense of Hooters and Crasher). He often told me that before he met them he was lacking in inspiration to produce his best work, however after a couple of rides with them he quickly realised that he would never be short of comic ideas for a plethora of new cartoons.
Although a few of the regular riders did not know what to make of Gary at first he soon earned his place in the covetted yellow jersey and we learned to recognise his bowlegged riding style from a great distance away. Somehow Gary always seemed to time his rides up the trail so that he managed to avoid the final climb up to Mt Evelyn. Even when we started late, he always seemed to be lurking at the bottom of the major climb.
Unlike some of our less disciplined riders, Gary was never known for bolting away from the peloton and I appreciated his assistance with looking after less experienced riders on our road rides. You could imagine our distress when, a few weeks ago, Gary announced thanks to his massive (taxpayer funded) superannuation from the Fire Brigade he would be able to retire and move down to millionaire alley on the Gippsland Lakes. This would give him more time to enjoy his ocean views and cruise the lakes in his 50 foot launch. He promised that it would not be all beer and skittles however, he had big plans to establish a new chapter of the Ghost Riders in East Gippsland.
Knowing that the 9th November would be Gary’s last regular ride with the Thursday peleoton it was encouraging to see that so many people had turned up to give him a memorable sendoff. In fact the final headcount revealed no fewer than 22 riders had decided to enjoy the spring sunshine and wish Gary a great retirement. We did not know that it was also Gary’s 52nd birthday, in fact I had always though he was older than Bob – but appearances can be deceptive.
After missing the last couple of rides due to a bad dose of gastric flu, this was to be my first ride of the whole trail for almost a month. I even cleaned and oiled the HASA so that it would look the part. This turned out to be a complete waste of time for it was covered in dust again after the first few hundred metres. I was not entirely surprised to find that Gary was not present at the start, but we did meet up with him at the BOTTOM of the hill. From there the peloton grew steadily as riders joined us at various places along the trail.
At Milgrove some riders went straight to the coffee shop to get their orders in early while the rest of the group sprinted off up the hill to Warburton. The pace steadily increased to over 30 kph as we sent a group of pram pushing young mothers jumping for their lives into the blackberries at the side of the trail. Bruno and Bob flew off the front while the rest of us struggled to keep within sight of them. After a quick U turn at Warburton we were soon flying back down the hill to Milgrove (once again sending the pram pushers ducking for cover as we passed).
No Birthday Party would be complete without a cake and no cake is complete without lots of sweet cream. What a fitting way to wish Gary a happy birthday and happy retirement. With cream on our faces we raised our coffees and sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday”. It was a great feeling to be among so many good friends who were doing something they really enjoyed. I could only hope that, in his 21 short months with us, Gary had accumulated some good memories to enjoy in the years ahead.
With bulging, cake filled, stomachs the return ride was undertaken at a slightly slower pace. I am not sure whether it was the cake, the coffee, the emotion of the afternoon or the lingering effects of the flu but I was soon feeling rather tired and not looking forward to the final climb to Mt Evelyn. Rather than try to keep up with the speedsters I decided to just ride at my own pace and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine streaming through the trees.
Thanks for your contributions to the group Gary and please send us a few cartoons to keep us laughing. Have a fantastic retirement !