“Where’s Bowie”, someone belatedly asked as we gathered at the Launching Place traffic lights. A few heads turned around. “Don’t know”, seemed to be the universal response. “He’s not here”, someone else stated the bleeding obvious, “perhaps he’s somewhere else”. While confusion reigned I decided to throw some other hard questions into the fray. “And where’s Trish and Little John ?” Again stunned silence from everyone apart from Crasher. I looked across to him to offer some sound advice. He thought for a while. “They’ve got to learn to hold a wheel, that’s how I won all my National Titles”, was his sagacious reply, albeit about 45 mins and 15 km too late.
I had only just managed to catch up to the bolting peloton. In spite of the oppressive heat, someone had turned up the wick at Woori Yallock leaving dropped riders scattered like human detritus all along the trail. Not only had the excessive pace left the peloton in ruins, but had also left us all covered from head to foot in fine grey dust from the dry track.
When sanity finally returned and I had a chance to chastise the guilty culprits, we had an opportunity to reflect on just where we had lost sight of Trish and Little John. In fact no one had seen either of them past Wandin. We waited for five minutes before sending Peter back along the trail to look for them. When word was eventually relayed back via mobile phone, it turned out that Trish had suffered a severe tyre burst at Wandin and, in spite of having fitted a new tube, the remaining bulge on her rear wheel meant that she could only limp along at very slow speed.
The decision was made to send the rest of the riders on to Warburton while Peter, Trish and Little John followed up several km behind. We had only just crossed the small bridge when Hooters pulled over to the side of the trail with his own misfortune. I suspected at first that it might be a loose wire on his rear power amplifier, but discovered that he had suffered a puncture on his front wheel.
While the other riders disappeared into the distance, I stopped to make sure that he knew how to fix the tyre. After all, the only manual labour John had ever done in his life was to push the little buttons on his mobile phone. In fact by the time the repair was completed, Peter had finally caught up from the rear group. I knew that by this time the leading group of riders would be close to Warburton. Could this be our most disorganised ride ever? Very probably.
I decided just to ride along at a gentle pace and stop at our new watering hole at Milgrove. When I arrived I found that there was a group of riders already there, while some of the the others were still completing the leg up to Warburton and back. After the hot and dusty ride it was a relief to be able to sit down and have a chat to the other riders. It was good to see Jon, my next door neighbour, back for his second extended ride with the group. He had apparently started at Wandin, but set off before us to test out the trail.
Also in the peloton were Ray “Ray’s Outdoors” Lorne and Mal “Bowie” Bowmaker. Both of these riders have now qualified to wear the yellow jersey. Other riders included “Willy Wonka” and Peter Edney, now also both well on their way to membership. Bob (“Two Bob”) Leedham was also back for his second ride.
Another rider who was out for his first ride with us was Phil Wallens’ mate Ron. He looked a tall, wiry rider after the calibre of Neil from Bendigo. Ron came up from Melbourne to complete the ride with us and was obviously very comfortable in the saddle. When all the riders had finally gathered, a head count revealed a final group size of 21 riders. A pretty good result for such a hot afternoon.
“We’re going to shut down the trail next Friday”, Gary threatened. “Too much long grass everywhere”. We thought at first that he was joking, but apparently the local CFA has sent an ultimatum to the Rail Trail Committee, threatening to close the trail unless the grass cutting is begun within the next few days. I am not sure how they would actually “close” the trail (perhaps with armed guards with water pistols stationed every few hundred metres?), but the prospect of having our favourite ride taken away from us was a sobering thought. Let’s just hope that common sense can prevail and that the necessary hazard reduction is undertaken immediately.
In spite of Gary’s disturbing news, the sandwiches prepared for us by the Trail Blazers Cafe were delicious and soon everyone was munching away contentedly like a herd of cows in a green paddock. It was nice to be able to enjoy fresh cakes for a change without having to bring along the VISA card to pay for the privilege. The proprietor even took all our drink bottles to refill with nice cold water. The coffees were so nice I decided to have a second cup. I suspect we have found a good ally in this business owner.
As usual, the return ride was undertaken at a slower speed, which was just as well as some of the riders were starting to feel the effects of the heat. The traditional sprint was cancelled to conserve energy, and in an attempt to keep the riders together. In conditions like this it is really important that stronger riders look after those who are less experienced to make sure that no one really gets into trouble.
We managed to safely make it almost back to Woori Yallock before Trish’s rear tyre finally gave way with a gut wrenching explosion. It was obvious that the bike had rolled it’s last metre – it was beyond repair. Faced with such a situation she did what any smart woman would have done in the same circumstances – she stole Peter’s bike and left him to carry her bike the remaining couple of km back to the car park. A red faced Peter finally puffed his way into sight some time later, carrying the remains of Trish’s bike.
The heat had not been enough for Lex and Ray, who both decided to ride all the way back to Emerald, while the reduced peloton headed off on the last leg. Jon had performed extremely well on his first Warby ride, but he had chosen a tough day for his debut. The heat was starting to take it’s toll. Fortunately for all of us, the water trough at Wandin was a welcome sight and gave us a good excuse to throw some water around and cool down our bodies. This resource really is a valuable asset, especially on days when the temperature is hovering around 35C.
It was a relief to be back at the car and to be able to turn up the air conditioning for the ride home. I stopped on the way home at one of the strawberry farms in Silvan to buy the best strawberries I have eaten for years. As Hooters keeps reminding us “Beats working for a living”.