Over the past 6 years we had faced danger squarely in the face on many occasions and we had always prevailed. I had to admit, however, that I had never witnessed anything like this in all my life. All around us huge gum trees were falling down like nine pins – and the ride hadn’t even started!
When the weather wallahs had predicted high temperatures for the Thursday ride I decided to recommend that all our riders shorten their rides and start at Woori Yallock instead of Mt Evelyn. It was while I was driving to Woori Yallock that I first started to feel that it would have been wiser to cancel the entire ride. Although the drive had been uneventful as far as Macclesfield I soon found myself in some wild nightmare that looked more like a scene from one of those disaster movies than a pleasant drive in the country.
About 5 km from Yellingbo there were so many fallen trees that the road was completely impassable. Lothar had also tried to find a way through but had been forced to turn back and look for an alternate route, For the next 15 minutes we both tried a succession of increasingly more obscure side roads in a vain attempt to find a passage through the destruction. Every road we took was blocked by dozens of fallen trees. The fact that there were no emergency vehicles yet on the scene suggested that the devestation had only just occured – obviously some sort of mini tornado had swept through the area and making it increasingly likely that we would not be riding anywhere on that day. I had seen historical photos of the 1908 Tonguska disaster which flattened every tree for hundreds of kilometres, but the scene in front of us was much, much worse than that.
We had one final throw of the die as we gamely fought our way up Spillers Rd. We managed to wind our way around a few large trees but, when I saw the road ahead completely blocked by yet another huge tree, I was about to turn back and head for the safety of home. It was only when I noticed another game motorist bouncing his car over the deep culvert that constituted the gutter and through a paddock, that I though that maybe I could try the same thing. Although I suspected that I was likely to leave my muffler and sump behind, somehow both Lothar and I managed to get past the final obstacle and finally made it safely to Woori Yallock.
As I staggered from my car I felt like I was already emotionally shot. My hands were shaking and my breaths were coming in short ragged gasps as I struggled to unload the bike. I was not even sure whether any other riders would actually make it safely through the carnage to join us on the trail. For a considerable time it looked like Lothar, Jon and I would be the smallest peloton we had had in a long, long time. Closer inspection of the parked cars however revealed that “Saucy” Dekter was also waiting to start the ride. It was at this time that the true calibre of the Warbys shone through and we were joined by a small group of intrepid souls who had ridden the entire trail from COGS. I did not do a final head count, but I think we ended up with at least a dozen riders. This was not bad considering the apalling conditions and the hurricane force wind that was still billowing around our ears.
After a brief sharing of stories we stood up on the pedals and tried to make headway into the maelstrom. At times the wind was so strong we had to ride the same section four or five times before we finally succeeded in reaching the next staging point. I kept hoping for a time when the wind would actually be behind us, but in the best traditions of all cycling folklore – it never happened. We faced a howling headwind all the way to Milgrove AND all the way back to Woori Yallock. In addition Lothar kept updating us with the current temperatures – “It’s 38C now on my thermometer”, he encouraged.
After a cold drink and a long rest at Milgrove I somehow gathered my resources for the return ride, reminding myself that I only had to make it back to Woori Yallock. I can’t remember much of the next 60 minutes, but since none of us actually died, I can only assume that we must have been made stronger.
It certainly had been an “interesting” day.