It had been a great year for the men of the Warby Ghost Riders but we all knew it was rapidly drawing to a close. With only a couple of days of 2002 remaining we knew that this would be our last chance for a club ride before history turned the page into 2003. With the holiday season we also had a good chance to achieve our biggest peloton of the year.
Since the weather forecast was for a top temperature of 30C we decided that a morning ride would be wise so the plans were to begin at Lilydale at 9 am, ride the entire length of the trial, have an early lunch at Warburton, and ride back in the early afternoon.
As usual I arrived first at the starting point but was soon joined by Ross and Duncan. Ross had apparently got a new helmet in his Christmas stocking and insisted that I record it with a new photo. I understand his old helmet has now been returned to its original function as a hanging basket near his front door.
Ross had also prepared his Massey Ferguson by refitting the “super slicks” that he had already trialled during our Victorian Traverse. With his new helmet and his new tyres Ross was confident that he would be a favourite to win the coveted green sprinters jersey before the day was out.
Duncan had also been busy preparing for the ride by selecting his best pair of black business socks to go with his lycra knicks. Apparently he is angling for a modelling contract with Dean Woods fashion accessories.
By the time 9 am arrived we were ready for a start and headed off on the climb up to Mt Evelyn. In the past this climb had actually posed something of a challenge but since we were all now in the peak of our senior years we were able to forge up the rise with barely a discernable change to our breathing. In fact my new heart rate monitor (Thank You Santa) informed me that I was only pulling about 148 beats per minute – almost exactly the same as my resting rate!
John had previously indicated that he was determined to achieve a new personal milestone. At first I thought that he meant he was going to finally put his seat up to the correct height, but he informed me that he was actually going to ride the full length of the trail sometime in his lifetime. Since it was all downhill from Mt Evelyn to Killara he had decided to join the peloton at the top of the hill in Mt Evelyn – that way he could roll for the first 30 mins while his legs warmed up.
About this time I received a phone call from Mal saying that he was pedalling from home but he had already busted a spoke. I suppose that serves him right for tightening his spokes tighter than piano wires. A few minutes later he joined us at Wandin and the peloton was starting to take on unfamiliar dimensions. We already had 5 riders and more waiting to join us down the track.
As we headed down the long slope we had a great chance to enjoy the terrific weather and scenery. It was fresh and cool with no wind, perfect weather for cycling and a perfect way to enjoy the great country we live in. My heart rate had decreased back to about 130 and all our bikes were cruising nicely. Even John was only about 500 metres behind the rest of the riders.
When we reached the long timber bridge before Woori Yallock Ross had a rush of blood and decided to show us the advantage of front suspension. While the rest of us were being shaken senseless, Ross changed to his large chain ring, engaged his self levelling suspension, and pulled away into the distance.
A couple of mins later we pulled into the station at Woori Yallock, just in time to see Rob Williams pulling into the car park. This was beginning to look as if this ride was actually organised. We might even arrive at Warburton on time for a change.
Mal had kindly fitted out Rob with the notorious “Pit Bull Special” for the day, so at least we knew we would be able to cope with any fallen trees or dead cows on the track. We even we might be able to coax Rob into trying his calves on the El Capitan at Warburton.
After a few minutes break for Mal to tune his spokes (apparently he usually aims for the D above high C on his rear wheel), and for John to wipe the drop of sweat from his brow with his beach towel, we were ready to resume. With six elite riders in the group we could excuse passing cyclists for confusing us with a breakaway group from the Sun Tour. Although we missed Bob and his plastic fantastic, it did at least mean that we would most likely be able to complete the ride without anyone falling off.
At Yarra Junction we had another pleasant surprise when we were met by Warren, also sporting a new bike helmet (isn’t Christmas great ?). Warren had previously gained fame by being the only rider to have scored negative points during a club ride. This time, however, he really looked mean and ready to score some real points. He spent a few moments bashing at his seat (apparently something of a pre-ride ritual) and announced that he was ready to ride. We now had a peloton of SEVEN riders – a new record for the Warby Ghost Riders.
It was about this time that the first drama of the day unfolded. We were not sure if Duncan was bending down to adjust his black socks or trying to swivel his head to look at a passing female cyclist, but whatever the reason was he suddenly veered from the path and started off into the undergrowth at high speed. Other riders watched in awe and amazement as he looked certain to run directly into a large gum tree in front of him. Somehow he managed to stay upright as he fought for control with branches and leaves whistling past his ears. Several onlookers later reported that it looked as if he was trying to re-enact that well known poem about Mulga Bill and his bicycle. Miraculously he did somehow regain the path and pretend that he was actually in full control all the time.
While I was still laughing at Duncan’s antics another sound reached my ears – a loud explosion resounded through the hillside, indicating that all was not well with our little band of riders. Surely John had not been eating those boiled egg sandwiches again ? Unfortunately the truth became apparent very rapidly when I realised that I had suffered ANOTHER puncture. In fact, not just a puncture, but a monumental BLOWOUT.
I had no alternative but to pull over and start dismantling my bike. After all I have done this so many times I should be able to do it in my sleep. The funny thing is it doesn’t seem to get any easier. By the time I managed to get the tube out of the tyre it was easy to see what had happened. Apparently my tube had been infected by some exotic “rubber eating virus” that I must have inadvertantly brought home with me from the Himalayas.
In all our vast cycling experience none of our riders had ever seen anything like it before. This was NOT just a puncture, the very tube was disappearing before our eyes. It looked as if it was something out of the Bermuda Triangle of Bicycle Mysteries. After overcoming my initial horror I somehow stuffed a new tube into the wheel and resumed the ride to Warburton.
Fortunately the remainder of the ride to Warburton passed without further incident, although it was disappointing that, once again, Mal failed to complete the full length of one of our rides and took the short cut to the coffee shop.
It was a pleasant surprise to find two members of the support crew (Joy and Val) waiting to share lunch with us. In fact we also noticed Bob’s Lavender Lady waiting in vain for him to appear. After lunch we retreated down to the riverside to rest under the shade of the trees. It was also a perfect opportunity to rubbish Rob about the state of his country’s “cricket” team. We tried to teach him the words of the Australian National Anthem (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, etc), but it seemed a little complicated for him to grasp on the first lesson.
Ross proudly displayed his new tattoo that he had especially applied for his birthday and the rest of us lined up for a photo shoot.
It was a spectacular sight we made as we pedalled back along the river down towards Melbourne. The only trouble was that the temperature was increasing as the day wore on.
The next major event was the attempt by the English team to climb the El Capitan. Although we tried desparately to stop Rob from making an ass of himself he decided to give it a go anyhow.
Rob started off in a tremendous show of enthusiasm, even retreating back up the trail about 100m for an enormous runup. The only problem was he only made it about 5 metres up the slope and had to be helped back down by Mal. We understand that he is now booked in for several months of counselling to help him overcome his fear of heights.
After a few moments spent laughing at Rob we resumed our ride through Milgrove and back towards Yarra Junction. It was at this point that Warren finally decided that he had done enough and called for his crew to collect him. Although we gave him some light hearted ribbing we were impressed that he had completed about 20 km or so, and, most importantly, it was all in the correct direction. Maybe there is hope for him after all…..
Woori Yallock saw Rob and Mal head off and meant that we were back down to 4 riders for the final 20 km or so. John had surprised us all by easily setting a new personal record for the most km ridden in one day. Obviously his secret early morning training rides are having an immediate effect.
We eventually reached the water trough at Seville, but by this time we were all starting to get a little light headed from dehydration and heat exhaustion. Ross started throwing water at John and soon the fight was on. A few minutes later we were all feeling much cooler and wetter and felt ready to conquer the final few km that lay ahead.
Unfortunately there was still was final mishap ahead. About 2 km further along I again heard the familiar sound of exploding rubber and, since Bob was too far away for it to be one his hemmorhoids exploding or Mal’s new knicks bursting, I knew that the rubber eating virus had again eaten through my replacement tube. A few minutes later as I pulled at the remains of my tube I started to make plans to replace my rear wheel with one of Ross’ Massey Ferguson wheels.
We were soon back in the saddles again but the strain had proven too much for John, whose stamina had now finally come to an end. We reluctantly parted company at Wandin and hence only the three original riders were left for the final climb back to Mt Evelyn. My heart rate pushed past 168 (about the same as my IQ). Once past the top of the hill there remained the long final coast all the way back down to the starting point. Although we nearly staged a crash inside a long dark tunnel we did manage to survive the final leg.
All agreed that this had been another succesful ride and may even become part of a new tradition. Well done guys.