The first ride of the year is certainly an important occasion in the life of any cycling group. An opportunity to great the New Year with optimism, to set the standard for the 12 months ahead, to build enthusiasm within the group and an ideal chance for the experienced cyclists to set an example for the newer recruits. Although the weather forecast was for a hot afternoon I was still expecting that most of our riders would turn out for such an important event.
Expecting to be greeted by a swarm of yellow jerseyed riders at Mt Evelyn, you could imagine my disappointment when I arrived to see only Jon Bate and 2 Bob in attendance. To make matters even worse, 2 Bob wasted no time in informing me that he would NOT be riding. “Too %#*& hot for an old guy like me”, was all he said before climbing back into his air conditioned car and disappearing out of sight. It was thus down to just Jon and me to ride the trail alone.
I was soon glad that I had decided to park at Wandin and ride back to Mt Evelyn. I was sure that, in the rising heat of the late afternoon, I would be very thankful for my foresight. Fortunately as we rode towards Warburton, our miniature peloton began to grow in numbers. Soon we were joined by Gary and Crasher and then by a succession of other riders. It was especially pleasing to meet Stephen Warburton, out for his first Thursday afternoon ride. After his strenuous exertions on the Cockatoo Trail I was sure that he would find the gentle gradients of the Warby Trail much more to his liking. Since his parents must have named him after the trail, it seemed only fair that he at least ride it.
By the time we reached Woori Yallock a quick look at the cars parked in the car park indicated that there must have been a group of riders who had already headed off before our arrival. As it was we never caught up with them until we reached Milgrove. Because of the rapidly rising temperature, no-one seemed too keen to continue up the hill to Warburton, prefering to head straight for the Bakery and the comfort of a cool drink instead.
Once we all seated with drinks and cakes in hand I had a chance to do a head count. What a relief it was to see that no less than 17 riders had turned out for the day. A closer inspection of the gathered throng soon indicated that not all those gathered had made the trip by bicycle. Peter had actually made the trip in his distinctive blue van. A closer look soon revealed the reason for this disgraceful lack of effort – he was covered in bandages and looked more like King Tutenkamen than the esteeemd Vice President. Wth blood and pus still oozing from the wounds on his arms he was an even uglier sight than usual.
As he sat down to display the other scrapes and scars on his legs and buttocks (some sights are best NOT seen while trying to eat your salad roll) he went on to recount the unfortunate story of his recent ride along the Old Beechy Rail Trail. Even the most inexperienced and inept cyclist should have realised that it is not a wise idea to go careering down an unfamilar slope at 70 kph with both of your hands in the air. With his brains apparently on long service leave Peter apparently only succeeded in making a bee line for the biggest pot hole and launching himself into near earth orbit. Although the flight was apparently painless, it was the landing that caused all the carnage. I guess the human body (especially not one with Peter’s huge mass)is not designed to withstand a full frontal high speed impact with a gravel road.
Trying to avert my eyes from the sickening sight of Peter’s bruised bum I looked around the rest of the crowd outside the Bakery. I could not believe what I saw. There was Jon Bate happily devouring a HUGE cream cake, some of which was actually entering his mouth, the rest being liberally spread across his lips and chin in the finest Ghost Rider tradition. Could this really the same health food fanatic who used to only eat vegetables and tofu? After only a few months of cycling he has already improved his diet to cater for the high energy demands that elite training requires. Not only was he conscientiously stuffing about 2000 calories into his mouth, the big smile on his face indicated that he was really enjoying it.
The other surprising sight we were presented with was that of Hooters on his bike. Since we had not seen hide nor hair of him for many months it was necessary to introduce him to all of the newer riders. Of course, because of the heat, Hooters had decided to reduce his ride to only 100 metres each way and was soon back behind the wheel of his car and waving goodbye. The rest of us still had some serious work to do before we could call it a day.
It did not take long for the late afternoon sun to make sure that we would have to earn the return ride. Although I had replaced the water in my drink bottle at Milgrove,within a short time it felt hot enough to make a cup of tea. My mouth hung open and my tongue started to loll out like some drunken clown as I fought to retain concentration on the path ahead. The rising heat haze started to distort my perceptions of space and time. Even the downhill sections of the trail were going uphill. Each breath I took pulled more superheated air into my seared lungs and sapped the little remaining moisture from my body. The sole thought that consoled me was that my car would be waiting at Wandin and therefore I would not have to ride up that cursed final hill in the furnace of Mt Evelyn.
By the time we arrived back at the water trough there was only Jon and Crasher to keep me company. You could imagine our dismay when we tried to get a drink, only to find that the well had run dry. Fortunately I decided to check behind the trough and discovered that some wise guy had turned off the main water valve. Once this was turned back on, the water flowed freely again. What a pity it is that the trail does not have a couple more of these drinking taps. On a hot day, they assume a very high level of importance.
With the aid of the water and a short stop I was soon back at the car and very glad to be able to switch on the air conditioning. 2006 was off to a good start, I wonder how many riders we will have on the final ride for the year ?